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When Military Grade Fails: The Fight Against the Lowest Bidder

Active Military
Active Military
December 1, 2023
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The 21th century has given birth to the rise of “red tape” and rigorous processes that must be adhered to. Every new layer of bureaucracy adds an additional expense to the taxpayer, and a burden to those charged with safeguarding our country and communities. 

At first glance, the government's "Lowest Price Technically Acceptable" (LPTA) procurement strategy might appear to be a sage effort to save money. The desire to focus on not wasting taxpayer dollars should be a concept we all can get behind, right?

However, what happens when frugality undermines functionality? Specifically, when the dollars we save today end up costing millions of dollars, or even lives, tomorrow?

The LPTA strategy, while seemingly well meaning, assumes that the lowest hanging fruit is the best for picking. It appeals to federal agencies with the promise of immediate savings, while discouraging them from even considering the long term value that other bids might offer. Bids that offer a superior service, or more reliable product, with marginally higher costs, are often not even considered because of this. 

As our national debt continues to bulge, we must ask ourselves: is the way we do business sustainable? Do our brave troops and first responders deserve to repeatedly be equipped by companies that offer more superlatives than value? 

Under LPTA, we have inadvertently equipped our servicemen and women with subpar gear, all because the superior alternatives were a few dollars more. As a former infantry Marine who served multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have witnessed this first hand.

As the future of warfare evolves, this raises grave concerns about the technological bulwarks safeguarding our way of life. Specifically IT initiatives, where cutting-edge innovation can be the difference between success and failure. Awarding a contract to the lowest bid here might meet the minimum criteria, but what do we lose in innovation and our cyber fortifications?

Our government's persistence with LPTA has been met with vast disapproval, not least from industry insiders raising red flags while formally protesting contracts

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) states, “in acquisitions where the requirement is clearly definable and the risk of unsuccessful contract performance is minimal, cost or price may play a dominant role in source selection.”

However, there are glimmers of change on the horizon. Amendments to the FAR signal a budding recognition of LPTA's inherent shortcomings, requiring agencies to document their justification of its use in some scenarios. Consideration of the Tradeoff process, especially when the potential risk of contract failure is deemed to be too high, also indicates that troops may have less reason to associate the phrase “lowest bidder” alongside the term “military grade.”

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