Follow-up: DoD’s LPTA ‘look’ is not a LPTA review

In a previous edition of the notebook, I reported that the Pentagon was embarking on a new review of the department’s use of lowest-price technically acceptable (LPTA) contract awards.

That notebook item was based on remarks by Randall Culpepper, the Air Force’s top official for services acquisition, who had told an industry conference: “Frank Kendall has put me in charge of a team that is basically charged with the responsibility of looking at the use of LPTA throughout the department,” and went on at length to explain why.

It seemed like a pretty clear-cut statement at the time, and I continue to believe I reported Culpepper’s remarks accurately, but procurement officials in the Office of the Secretary of Defense contend we put much too fine a point on things by referring to a “new review” of LPTA in the headline.

It’s a somewhat sensitive subject in the building, because while many members of industry view LPTA as a symbol of everything wrong with Defense acquisition, the department’s procurement leaders firmly believe that the technique is only being used where it’s appropriate — and like to point to a recent GAO report that largely backs up their position. So the mere suggestion that they might reexamine that stance is something they’d like to avoid.

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“We’re not looking to actually add some new capability to measure on an action-by- action basis how often we use LPTA or not. We have not gone into the (Federal Procurement Data System) to change the coding so we can collect that data or anything like that,” Dick Ginman, the director of defense procurement and acquisition policy told me in a recent interview.

Ginman said that as part of Better Buying Power 3.0, DoD is refining its definitions of “technically acceptable,” but that the effort doesn’t entail a new attempt to gather data on existing use of LPTA per se.

“The fact is that this has been sampled by GAO, and they’re welcome to come in and sample us again,” Shay Assad, the director of defense pricing told me. “It’s just not something that we see as a problem. We’re not going to apologize for making price important, but we think there’s enough evidence to dispel the myth that we’re demanding that our people use LPTA techniques when they shouldn’t be. The data just doesn’t say we’re doing what some people say we’re doing.”

So what did Culpepper mean when he said he was leading a team to look at LPTA? Assad and Ginman weren’t certain during our interview, but after some coordination, the Pentagon eventually sent a statement, which we reprint below in full:

“BBP 3.0 initiatives are broken down and have a multi-service team working to scope each initiative. Mr. Culpepper is leading two of the teams under Improve Tradecraft in Acquisition of Services — specifically Improve the effectiveness and productivity of contracted engineering and technical services and Improve requirements definition.

As part of that effort, the team is taking a critical look at a sample of current services contracts, and using a holistic approach, they are examining the alignment between the acquisition strategy used, contract type, the way the performance work statement is written and the source selection methodology. Our technical services come in a broad range of complexity and the goal is to have good alignment among all facets of the acquisition.

So, where LPTA factors into that discussion is the source selection methodology. But, to re-emphasize, there is no department wide review of LPTA contracts.”

This post is part of Jared Serbu’s Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jared’s Notebook.