Everything You Need to Know About GSA Polaris: Questions, Answers, and Timely AdviceNov 03, 2021
We’re getting closer to the final RFP release for GSA’s Polaris, so we created this consolidated resource to help Small Businesses prepare and stay up to date with the latest and greatest guidance for this exciting opportunity!
We’ll be updating this GSA Polaris blog frequently with updated guidance, FAQs, and pro tips on how to prepare, so be sure to check back in! If you want to learn more about Polaris in the meantime, you can also register for our free Polaris Webinars. Want us to dive deep into a topic for you? Let us know what you’re curious about by contacting us at [email protected].
Table of Contents
- What is Polaris?
- How do I know if I'm a good candidate?
- How do I get started?
- How do you evaluate relevant experience projects?
- *New Post* What do I need to know about teaming?
- How can I boost my score? (coming the week of 29 Nov)
*New this week!*
What do I need to know about teaming?
If you've spent any time in the government contracting realm, you know that teaming with other companies can be a great option to set you apart from the competition. But contractual teaming relationships can take many forms, and not all of these are equal when it comes to Polaris. In fact, there may be situations where teaming hurts your offer more than it helps! If you are struggling to understand your options, or are feeling overwhelmed by the decision, then this blog is for you. We put together the most frequently asked questions about teaming to build this Quick Reference Guide all about the ins and outs of teaming on Polaris. Let’s dive in!
1. What types of teams are allowed? On Polaris, there are three main ways to bid. You can bid alone (no teammates), with a team (traditional Prime/Sub relationships), or as part of a Joint Venture. Here are the high-level pros and cons of each relationship. What you absolutely, positively cannot forget is that to be eligible for Polaris, every company (regardless of prime or subcontractor status on the team) must be considered a SB in NAICS 541512.
2. What do I need to know about Joint Ventures? JVs can be a great way to pool resources, because you’ll be permitted to use the relevant experience and company certifications from either company to qualify. There are a couple of things to watch out for, though:
a. The JV will only qualify for the contracting set-asides that the entities are eligible for (i.e. you can’t form a HUBZone JV if neither company is a HUBZone). The JVs must be separately identified in writing with its own name, DUNS number, and CAGE number in SAM.gov.
b. If you’re working under a Mentor/Protégé construct, the Protégé must certify to SBA and the Contracting Officer that the JV complies with SBA requirements. SBA provides a template JV certificate (Certify.SBA.gov).
c. The JV must perform at least 40% of the total work performed and 40% aggregate performed by members of JV. JV may have its own separate employees to perform administrative functions, including one or more Facility Security Officer(s), but may not have its own separate employees to perform contracts awarded to the joint venture.
d. JV must annually submit reports to SBA and contracting agencies explaining how the performance of work requirements are being met for each contract performed.
e. You will still face a point penalty as a JV if you have not previously performed in the same business arrangement as proposed.
f. If you are claiming credit for a facility clearance, the facility clearance must be in the name of the JV or each entity of the JV must hold a facility clearance at the level claimed.
3. Can I submit multiple bids? The short answer is “yes,” but let’s break this down by asking some more specific questions.
- Can I bid solo on one track (e.g. WOSB) and as a Joint Venture (JV) or part of a team in another track (e.g. HUBZone)? Yes, teaming arrangements in accordance with FAR Subpart 9.6 will be allowed under the Polaris contract. Organizations may propose solo on one track and as a JV on a different track, and would do so as different legal entities; i.e. a small business offering on its own (with or without subcontractors) is a different legal entity than a joint-venture.
- Ok, so can a company subcontract with more than one prime? Yes, however, no project, to include Primary Relevant Experience and Emerging Technology Relevant Experience, may be used in more than one proposal for the same Pool under this solicitation. Projects used in more than one proposal in a given pool under this solicitation will be removed from all proposals and will not be evaluated as part of any Offeror’s proposal.
4. What’s all this about a risk penalty for not previously performing in the same business arrangement as proposed? What does that even mean? This one is really important. Basically, if you are forming a team with a company you haven’t worked with before, you will incur a point penalty. This is because companies who have successfully performed on previous contracts are assessed as being lower risk than newly formed teams. Here’s what the fine print says:
- The Offeror shall identify if it has previously performed in the same business arrangement as proposed. “Business Arrangement” is defined as:
- An individual company (that is not proposing as part of a joint venture or with a team of subcontractors)
- Joint venture
- A prime contractor and its proposed team of subcontractors
- A business arrangement is considered to have previously performed if one or more applicable conditions are met:
- An individual company (that is not proposing as part of a joint venture or with a team of subcontractors) has previously performed on a contract or order as itself; or
- A joint venture has previously performed on a contract or order
- All members of a joint venture have previously performed together on a contract or order as a joint venture or other business arrangement, or
- Each proposed subcontractor has previously performed on a contract or order as a subcontractor to the offering prime contractor. (Note: No additional verification is required for an individual company offering as itself.)
Here’s why you should care: If you meet this criteria, you get an additional 8,500 Points! If you don’t meet this criteria, you get 0 points. That’s a huge point exclusion!
5. Can you only use relevant experience references (Primary and Emerging Technology) from subcontractors with whom you have previously performed on a contract or order? Nope. Offerors are not limited to using only relevant experience projects from subcontractors with whom they have previously performed on a contract. However, like we described above, an Offeror will receive additional consideration (meaning an additional 8,500 points!) for demonstrating that it has previously performed in the proposed business arrangement in accordance with the solicitation instructions.
6. I have a relevant project that I performed while part of a JV, but do not plan to bid on Polaris as part of that JV. Can I use that project on Polaris? Yes, however only one entity from the JV may submit that project since projects used in more than one proposal in a given pool under this solicitation will be removed from all proposals and will not be evaluated as part of any Offeror’s proposal. So basically, you and another company can't use the same projects for points in the same pool.
7. How do I prove that I have a “previous business arrangement” with my teammate(s)? Previous performance for joint ventures, or a prime contractor with a proposed team of subcontractors, must submit the following for verification:
- The contract or order for which the work was performed and
- Evidence of the business arrangement such as
- a joint venture agreement that identifies all members or
- a copy of the subcontract(s).
Note: An IDIQ contract or BPA without performance does not satisfy the requirement of this element for previous performance.
8. Can the prime contractor add "un-named" subcontractors to the master contract and/or task order? Good news here! Yes, awarded Polaris contractors may utilize different subcontractors for task orders than those identified for the master contract – so the team you propose with doesn’t need to be static after award.
9. I am a SB and I’m teaming with a WOSB. Does it make sense to just make them the Prime offeror so we can submit in both the SB and WOSB Pools? That’s a loaded question, and the answer is, “maybe.” Remember how before we mentioned the point penalty for forming a completely new team? Well, there is a similar point penalty in the HUBZone, WOSB, and SDVOSB pools if less than 50% of the relevant experience projects belong to the Prime offeror. So, if your theoretical WOSB partner has three qualifying relevant experience projects, then sure, it might make sense to let them Prime. But don’t make that decision without also considering the point implication of Volume 4 (meaning, do they have the same systems certifications and clearance as you?) and the infrastructure required for long-term success on a GSA contract.
10. I can’t cover any of the emerging technology areas without teaming. What will that do to my score? Let’s assume you find a teaming partner who can cover three emerging technology areas with qualifying projects to max out your score. So basically, 1,000 points per project plus an additional 1,000 points for covering 3 emerging technology areas (4,000 points total). If this theoretical teammate is a company you’ve worked with before, you’re in a good place, because you’ll get the additional 8,500 points for your previous relationship in addition to the 4,000 points for the projects – so it’s a 12,500 point boost! However, if this is a new teammate, you’re only increasing your score by 4,000 points. And remember, there’s no minimum number of emerging technology projects required to bid – so you could be putting yourself at a point disadvantage unnecessarily!
So, how are you feeling about teaming now? We obviously can’t cover every teaming situation or point permutation in a single blog, so if you still have questions (or are feeling a little uneasy about your specific situation), then get in touch! We can walk you through your options and help you evaluate your viability objectively before you commit yourself to a teaming strategy that inadvertently puts your proposal at a points disadvantage! And, as always, you can download our FREE primary relevant experience and emerging technology self-evaluation forms, or contact us if you need help!
Don't forget to check out last week's information below!
What is Polaris?
In short, Polaris is a GSA Government Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) that is exclusively (and we really do mean exclusively) set aside for small businesses who provide Information Technology services. Polaris is a replacement for the ill-fated Alliant 2 SB contract and will be used to streamline the acquisition of IT services and emerging technology for the Federal Government. Here are the key things to know:
- Multiple Award IDIQ
- Solicitation anticipated in December 2021 or January 2022
- 100% Small Business Set Aside with specific pools for:
- SB: 100 awards
- HUBZone: 60 awards
- WOSB: 80 awards
- SDVOSB: 70 awards
- All Primes and Subcontractors must be a Small Business in NAICS 541512
- Points-based evaluation with 72-78% of the total score derived from Relevant Experience/Past Performance
- Additional points are available for approved Cost Accounting and Purchasing systems, Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) certifications, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certifications, and Facility Clearances.
How do I know if I’m a good candidate?
Here’s another – and potentially smarter -- way to think about that question: Is Polaris the right prime contract vehicle for you? In other words, is it a contract you can realistically manage and that your government clients can use? The initial bid is the easy part -- winning work on task orders is going to require additional time, resources, and effort. Before you get into tallying points, ask yourself a few questions:
- Can you manage the administrative demands of a GSA contract with your current contract support infrastructure?
- Do you have access to a senior, high-level, program management professional?
- Are you willing and able to meet the marketing, minimum contract thresholds, and participation requirements that come with a win?
RECOMMENDATION: Answering “no” to the questions above shouldn’t be grounds for abandoning all hope immediately, but it should give you pause and help you calibrate your definition of what success looks like on Polaris. Your goal should be staying on the contract and making it work for you, not just winning the initial award. Think through how you will manage work once you're on the contract and let that plan of action inform your strategic bid, hiring, teaming, or business development decisions accordingly.
If you don’t think your long-term success will be an issue, then you can start evaluating your projects and calculating an anticipated score. Beware: Even the most organized companies can be surprised by the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare a response like this, but the efforts you make to prepare now can pay dividends when the final GSA Polaris RFP is released. Give yourself the best head start possible by thoughtfully evaluating your projects, putting a strategy in place for teaming (if needed), and knowing what administrative requirements lurk in the fine print of the solicitation that might derail an otherwise eligible bid.
How do I get started?
First, make sure you don't have any disqualifiers. Before you spend valuable time preparing documents and coordinating your response, make sure you don’t have any (non-negotiable) showstoppers that will disqualify you from competition or make you ineligible for an award. Check out Our Basic Eligibility Checklist here if you’re not sure. Note: Most of the eligibility requirements are binary, but don't be lulled into thinking you will be able to put your proposal together in a week. Preparing your response is going to take some time -- especially if you are missing paperwork or need to renew any certifications. You must be able to demonstrate proven, quality performance -- not just assure the Government you have the potential to be successful. Priming on this contract carries additional responsibilities that can't be delegated to teammates -- and "pass-throughs" are prohibited! Once you know you’re eligible, recommend following the process below.
- Step 1: Draft your contract lineup. Make a list of your contracts that immediately come to mind as aligning to one or more of the 5 performance areas listed in Section L of the draft RFP. Whether it’s one contract or fifteen contracts, it will be faster to start your evaluations with a consolidated list and evaluate each project upfront, rather than chasing projects down one by one once the government finalizes the evaluation criteria.
- Step 2: Down-select your projects -- fast! You don't have infinite time and resources, so you need to figure out your top projects fast. First, confirm that every project on your list meets the minimum qualifying criteria. If a project doesn't meet the minimum thresholds for recency, relevance, and magnitude, don't keep it on the list! Down-selecting early allows you to prioritize your efforts and spend the time developing only the eligible projects that have the best chance of yielding you the most points. Warning: GSA Polaris isn't a proposal you can creatively write your way on to by stretching definitions of relevance or adding a lot of additional justifying text. You have to prove, largely using documents authored and maintained by entities other than your company, that your experience qualifies.
- Step 3: "Rack and Stack" your projects. This step will identify your strongest chance of winning the most points. Once you have your list of eligible projects, score them based on the draft point values in the Draft RFP -- the Polaris Point Evaluation Table was released with the latest update! This is a full cheat sheet for your submission that describes in detail the evaluation criteria GSA will use when they dig into your proposal. (Contact us if you need help understanding how your proposal will be graded!) (Tip: Keep the details straight by downloading our Project Evaluation Form here).
- Step 4: Identify your gaps and evaluate your weaknesses. It’s okay if you don’t have projects to cover every performance area - but you need to know where your capability gaps are. Knowing what you can't cover will help you identify teammates who can strengthen your overall value proposition to the Government, not just duplicate your skills. Be careful to match what is written in the Performance Work Statement to the requirements. Know what counts as evidence and know what is in your records so you can bid with confidence. RECOMMENDATION: This is where an independent review can help you objectively determine your qualifications and/or gaps. Contact us to get an impartial, requirements-based review of your potential documentation.
How do you evaluate relevant experience projects?
We’re going to keep this simple. First, let’s look at what type of contract work qualifies as a “project.” Based on the draft RFP, a Relevant Experience “project” can be any of the following:
- A single contract
- A single task order awarded under a Multiple Award contract
- A single task order awarded under a master Single Award Indefinite Delivery task order contract (Definite Quantity, Requirements, or Indefinite Quantity) (FAR 16.5)
- A single task order placed under a Federal Supply Schedule contract (FAR 8.405-2)
- A single task order placed under a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) (FAR 8.405-3)
You’ll notice that you cannot claim a whole IDIQ as a project. These definitions apply for both Prime and subcontractor experience. And speaking of subcontractor experience, the draft RFP reminds us that “only the work identified in the specific subcontract may be utilized for scoring as a relevant experience project.”
While we’re talking about caveats, let’s get this out of the way, too: your offer has to include a minimum of three primary relevant experience projects. (In a future blog post we’re going to run you through the ins and outs of teaming strategies, so be sure to check back in!)
For your primary relevant experience projects that meet the definition above, the next step is to confirm the projects meet all 5 minimum criteria (see Section L.5.2.2 of the draft RFP for more information). Specifically, you must confirm that:
- The project includes performance in one of the NAICS listed in L.126.96.36.199. Note: The claimed NAICS must have been integral to the performance of the project.
- The project is only being claimed once in a pool.
- The project is ongoing or has been completed within five years from the date proposals are due (assume Feb 2022).
- The project is complete or has at least one year of performance.
- The value is at least $250,000. Note: Project value for completed projects is determined by the total obligated dollars. Project value for ongoing projects is determined based on the total estimated value (inclusive of all option periods).
The list of minimum criteria for emerging technology projects is very similar (see Section L.5.2.3 of the draft RFP for more information). For these projects to qualify, they must meet all of following 5 minimum criteria:
- Have been for the performance of one of the Emerging Technologies listed in L.188.8.131.52 Emerging Technology Listing. Note: The claimed Emerging Technology must have been integral to performance of the project.
- Only be used once within the Emerging Technology Relevant Experience. Note: You CAN use one project to get credit both as a Primary Relevant Experience and Emerging Technology Relevant Experience (as long as no one else is also using it in your pool).
- Be ongoing or have been completed within five years from the date proposals are due.
- Must be complete or have at least one year of performance.
- Must have an Individual Project Value of at least $250,000. Note: Just like with the primary relevant experience projects, project value for completed projects is determined by the total obligated dollars. Project value for ongoing projects is determined based on the total estimated value (inclusive of all option periods).
So, at this point you’ve confirmed your project meets the definition of a “project,” and that it hits all of the minimum criteria. Now you can look at scoring your projects individually!
Based on the draft scoresheet, you can give yourself the following points for Prime or Subcontractor projects:
IF on your project you were the Prime and the project was in support of a Federal Customer, you can claim additional points for:
Be sure to pay attention to those maximums so that you don’t inflate your score artificially! Knowing the limits might also help you decide which combination of projects you ultimately select. And one more thing: if you can demonstrate coverage across multiple NAICS codes, that’s another way to earn big points. Check it out!
- Experience in 2 NAICS: 1,000 points
- Experience in 3 NAICS: 2,000 points
- Experience in 4 NAICS: 5,000 points
- Experience in 5 NAICS: 8,000 points
What about emerging technology experience? This area is a little simpler. You’ll get 1,000 points for each qualifying emerging technology project (for up to three projects) with additional points available if you can demonstrate coverage in 2 or 3 emerging technology categories (700 and 1,000 points respectively). That’s it.
Lastly, let’s talk for a minute about evidence and how to prove what you’re claiming. The Draft RFP provides a list of "approved sources" that it will accept for contract documentation. These include:
- FPDS-NG Report (REQUIRED)
And if your FPDS-NG Report does not "substantiate all information on the Section J.P-2, Relevant Experience (Primary) Project Template," then you will need this additional documentation:
- Project Template (Must be signed by the Contracting Officer or in certain circumstances, the Contracting Officer Representative's signature will be accepted)
- Original Contract Award Document (SF 1449; SF26; SF33; DD 1155; Optional Form 307; GSA Form 300)
- Copy of Contract Statement of Work
- Copy of Contract's Section B Supplies/Services & Prices or Costs CLINs (Optional)
For this additional documentation, be sure it meets these three criteria:
- Does it clearly tie to the contract? This might seem obvious, but is the correct and correlating contract number listed on every piece of additional documentation you're submitting? You'd be surprised how many final Statements of Work/Performance Work Statements (or Subcontracting Agreements!) don't include the contract number anywhere in/on the document. You're especially going to want to take a look at this if your SOW/PWS was revised, or included with an award packet as an attachment. Every piece of evidence must link back to the "source" project.
- Does it say what you thought it should say? In other words, is your documentation accurate and complete? Is the right contract type reflected? What about the obligated value? And NAICS? While the Project Template can help correct minor issues (in lieu of an electronic change of record), you won't be able to submit a whole narrative that accounts for something like a missing task area in the PWS. So read and re-read everything you plan to submit now.
- Does it stand on its own? Understanding the nuance between something you know and something you can prove is critical, so ask yourself: Is my evidence definitive and clear enough to be read, understood, and interpreted exactly the same way by the Government without me in the room to guide or influence them? For instance: If you're claiming points for OCONUS performance, does your PWS say that the Place of Performance may include Japan (as an example), or does it state that contractors will (or shall) perform tasks in Japan? You only get credit for what appears in black and white.
If reviewing every piece of evidence through this lens seems like a lot of work, you're right! But following these steps raises your chances of maximizing your points and submitting a successful bid. So make sure you get credit for all of your hard-won experience by selecting qualifying evidence that will make it easy for GSA to grade your proposal -- and send you an award notice!