Excuse the cheeky title - I couldn't resist.
There has been a delay of sorts, just not an unusual one. The first solicitations from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) related to the border wall initiative were released in early March. Proposals were supposed to be due on March 29. But at about 1:30 pm on March 28th, the government hastily issued an amendment pushing the due date to April 4. Then, at about 10 pm, they dropped another round of offeror questions with answers; no doubt the reason for the extension.
The government contracting community is gearing up for this, without a doubt. But what, specifically, sits in the pot at the end of this particular rainbow? To say that these procurement efforts are putting the cart before the horse is somewhat of an understatement. Let’s step back and try to put this into perspective.
CBP kicked off the border wall program with three unusually broad and non-specific solicitations. And also some fairly modest objectives.
Solid Concrete Border Wall RFP – Proposals due 4/4/2017 (4:00 pm EDT)
[$300 million shared ceiling]
This 5-year, Multiple Award IDIQ is to cover the design and construction of a solid concrete wall prototype and various miles of border wall along the southwest border (i.e. San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX).
Other Border Wall RFP – Proposals due 4/4/2017 (4:00 pm EDT)
[$300 million shared ceiling]
This Multiple Award IDIQ is to cover the design and construction of an “other” border wall prototype and various miles of border wall along the southwest border (i.e. San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX). (I.e. The acquisition of a prototype using other than solid concrete materials, in addition to future possible construction along the American-Mexican border.)
DHS Border Wall Long-Term Strategy RFI – White Papers due 3/31/2017 or 4/1/2017 (Unclear)
[No contract value provided. Not clear if an RFP will follow at all.]
DHS seeks white papers from companies, not for profits, educational institutions, consortia, and other entities with innovative ideas to design, finance and complete construction of physical infrastructure, known as the "wall" on the Southwest land Border of the United States to aid the Border Patrol in detecting and preventing illegal border crossings. The infrastructure will provide a complete physical barrier along the Southwest land Border.
The first two notices, which are in the RFP stage, are the product of an initial presolicitation notice that came out in late February. No scope of work documents were provided with that pre-sol, and no feedback from industry was requested. So it’s not too surprising that offerors had a lot of questions. There are over 100 questions posted with responses for each RFP. They run the gamut, from specific technical items as to what is the vendor is actually expected to deliver, to banal clarifications as to how responses will be evaluated.
This reflects two things: the haste with which these RFPs were thrown together, and the intense interest from companies who want a piece of this program. A program which, if it actually comes to pass, will be worth much more than the $600 million over 5 years that these two "prototype" RFPs represent. There are so many companies on the FBO interested vendors lists for these solicitations (about 200 on each) as to make them meaningless. (Which they usually are anyway.)
Given all that, you can expect that this six day proposal due date extension won’t be the last delay this program will experience. All the pieces are in place for a protracted evaluation and award process, and a fierce post-award protest by any unfortunate bidders who don’t win a spot on the resulting contract vehicle. And we’re not even taking about subsequent battles over task order awards once the vehicle is in place. Make no mistake – this is as high-profile as federal contracts come.
In my mind, the last open notice is the most interesting of the three – the Border Wall Long Term Strategy RFI. The Government is requesting white papers (of no longer than five pages) that articulate a wall strategy of such immense scope, it’s kind of inspiring. They’re not just asking about the construction and technology. They also want suggestions on innovative financing approaches, managing complex stakeholder relationships, and maximizing economic benefit for American workers. This should provoke interest from organizations of all kinds – construction firms, innovative technology companies, think tanks, educational institutions – you name it.
On one hand, this seems like an ideal first step that should, perhaps, be taken before implementing any large government initiative. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear what CBP is going to do with the 200-plus white papers they’re almost certainly going to receive. Or how they are evaluating proposals for the initial prototype construction contracts prior to having a long-term strategy. Or if it’s a good idea for the government to outsource what appears to be significant aspects of US domestic economic policy to the private sector.
CBP states that they “may set up meetings (in person or telephonic) with respondents whose white papers, in the opinion of DHS, have merit and value in further discussion.” However, they also make it clear that “no funds have been authorized, appropriated, or received for this effort. DHS may use the responses to inform its development of future border infrastructure requirements.”
So our take on this, for now? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯