There’s been a lot of complaining lately about the Pentagon’s propensity to award weapons contracts to the lowest bidder. However the alternative, called “best value,” brings its own problems. Foremost among those problems is that when price ceases to be the main factor driving an outcome, the source-selection authority has to exercise more judgment in trading off various measures of merit. If that is not done rigorously, then the most fundamental standard of fairness before the law — equal treatment — can get lost in the details. That is what seems to have happened to General Dynamics in the Amphibious Combat Vehicle competition conducted by the Marine Corps. It submitted a proposal that should have won according to the selection criteria stated in the solicitation, but the source-selection authority then deviated from those criteria in pursuit of what was deemed to be “best value.” GD has launched a protest that targets winner SAIC (it has not challenged a second award to BAE Systems). But there is a larger issue here about how well-intentioned ideas like “best value” can turn into subjective assessments that subvert fairness in contracting. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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