Our Findings: Nine Points for
On November 17, 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency issued RFI #70FA301BR00000008 soliciting public comment on a proposal to hire a single vendor to handle all of the shipping, transportation, logistics, and delivery of disaster relief to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for the next 12 months. The contract represents a vital link in the delivery of over $1 billion in disaster aid and will have an immense impact on the speed of the island’s recovery.
We believe the draft Performance Work Statement and the overall mega-contracting strategy for disaster aid delivery will result in the continuation of a pattern of delay and waste. Therefore, we recommend that FEMA alter the draft Performance Work Statement (PWS) to better serve the people of Puerto Rico and the USVI, as well as this nation’s taxpayers, with an emphasis on local business and hiring, collaborative partnership approaches, iterative requirements development with public engagement in quality assurance, and open data. Of immediate concern are FEMA’s joining of sea based shipping with local shipping requirements and the lack of independent verification and validation (IVV) for contractor performance.
Our recommendations are based on the voice of industry and the general public, as well as our experience as leaders in the Federal government and within Puerto Rico. Among the many respondents to the RFI, thirty gave permission to “publish quotes from [their] response as part of our efforts to improve the quality of disaster aid delivery in Puerto Rico and USVI”. Their responses to the RFI send a clear message that there is a better way for FEMA to ensure the efficient and cost effective delivery of life sustaining resources to the people of Puerto Rico and the USVI. We have consolidated their comments below in Nine Points for RebuildPR Contracting.
1. Separate the Contract Requirements for On-The-Ground vs. Sea Operations
The draft PWS calls for a single vendor to handle all end-to-end transportation, from CONUS warehouses to final delivery in the hands of aid recipients. Separating the local delivery and transportation requirements from sea operations would encourage “local companies that have knowledge of the territory.” Companies with transportation capabilities affirmed that their local knowledge would allow them to provide better pricing and solutions if given the opportunity to compete apart from an overarching end-to-end contract. “As currently intended to be published,” wrote one contributor, “this contract would not consider local capacities to render services.” Another suggested that “assigning businesses regional responsibility will assist with speed to consumer.”
2. Ensure Fair Pricing and Transparency Through Competitive Bidding
The draft PWS does not include provisions for competition in selecting contractors or subcontractors. Respondents were consistent in their concerns that “sole source will not allow fair market competition for pricing and service.” In their experience, “multiple sources will also keep pricing and service levels in line with [local] market standards.” In addition to business concerns, contributors highlighted that a “lack of transparency” raises concerns about “equal opportunity” for business. “We are local companies,” one wrote, “that have knowledge of the territory.”
3. Improve Outcomes by Leveraging Local Knowledge
The draft PWS is silent on local subcontracting and hiring. Respondents viewed this as a lost opportunity to add value and reduce risk for FEMA and the overall recovery. Working with local vendors combines “forces [for a] stronger and more precise solution.” They cited challenges on the ground where local knowledge provides advantage, including “road conditions, traffic patterns,..[and]access in and out of ports.” Other spoke with pride that local companies “will do a much better job.”
4. Accelerate Economic Recovery with Local Contracting and Hiring
The draft PWS is not integrated with the overall Federal objective, which is recovery and self-sufficiency. Inclusion of economic recovery as an explicit goal will open a door to the strategic use of local preference to accelerate the return to economic health in Puerto Rico and the USVI. Local contracting “will provide work and an injection of dollars into the local economy.” Others spoke more strongly, saying that it “is not acceptable when Puerto Rico needs to lift its economy.”
5. Improve Results Through Local Partnership
The draft PWS lays out a “top down” strategy which contrasts with FEMA’s proven success when it collaborates with local business and community organizations. Partnership represents an “opportunity for our community to stand up and repair itself.” One respondent commented that “strategic alliance provide[s] FEMA with knowledge, which does not know [the situation] in its entirety and can reach through these [local] channels the people most affected.” Partnering also has the effect of ensuring “your message gets to folks as they need it.” Another suggested that FEMA “partner with businesses…, local trade associations, and business clusters to [help] local service providers...understand how to apply and what FEMA is seeking from them.”
6. Engage the Public in Requirements Development
The draft PWS provides little public engagement in the develop of requirements, delivery of results, or measurement of performance. Respondents suggested that ensuring that the “public have a say creates more ownership” and generates better results. Specific strategies included “iterative” requirements development process, a role for community “audit” in quality management, and “transparency” in service delivery. Respondents also raised concerns that a lack of public accountability may lead to “hoarding, ...favoritism, and theft.”
7. Establish Independent Verification and Validation of Results
The PWS places most of the responsibility for performance management in the hands of the vendor itself. Given the broad impact and significance of the contract, respondents recommended that “quality control should be provided by a separate, non-biased vendor/contractor to ensure transparency, quality data collection, and suggest improvements.” “It is important,” another wrote, “that FEMA establish a separate contract with a different vendor to provide quality control and reporting for this work to ensure the public that the best possible service is being given to the American citizens of Puerto Rico.” Concerns were also raised about the frequency of performance reporting and suggested “quarterly progress updates to the local business community.”
8. Incorporate Open Data Into Requirements
The PWS calls for the collection and transmittal of data to FEMA, but is silent on open data. Respondents expressed specific benefits from incorporating open data into the contracting strategy. They suggested “the mandatory production of open data sets on all aspects of the logistic processes...easily available to, accessible by, and usable by the public.” The public, in the view of respondents, has an inherent need to know “where said goods will be used”. Other benefits cited included the overall reduction of “waste, abuse, and fraud” through transparency and specific returns to project efficiency. One noted that open data can result in “accurate working plan[s]...to produce an ideal logistic supply chain system.” Others highlighted the benefits of open data to “field operatives” in the development of “schedule and task management” and the “delivery of life sustaining resources.”
9. Provide Complete Information to Prospective Bidders
The PWS excludes critical information that prospective bidders would need in order to provide FEMA with valuable feedback on CLIN structure, requirements, or pricing. The list of questions that bidders want answered is extensive and is provided in greater detail below (See Public Questions About FEMA’s #RebuildPR Contracting). Several types of information were consistently requested: business justification for the strategy to award the contract to a single vendor, FEMA’s plans for engagement of local business and community groups, the extent of damage to local transportation infrastructure, performance and quality metrics, and data on the current deployment of FEMA personnel and contractors engaged in relevant tasks on Puerto Rico and the USVI.
Business leaders, advocates, and the general public are encouraged to add your questions and comments. Tell FEMA what you need to know. Click here.