CIO-SP4 Amendment 8 – NIH Puts Small Businesses Behind the 8-ball

CIO-SP4 Amendment 7, we barely knew you. Less than a week after Amendment 7 went live, we have another amendment to dig into. What is new in this amendment? We have major changes to Other Than Small Business (OTSB) and Emerging Large Business (ELB) certifications. For small businesses, NIH is digging in its heels on consideration of CTA members.

While we are not sure how long this amendment will last, it puts small businesses behind the 8-ball.

First things first, proposals are still due August 3, 2021. We suspect this date will be moved again, but this deadline holds for Amendment 8.

Be sure to check out my previous post about Amendment 7 before we get started here.

For OTSBs and ELBs, the playing field just became much more open. Prior to Amendment 8, OTSBs and ELBs were required to have at least level 2 CMMI appraisals, ISO 9001 certification, and ISO 20000 certification. Amendment 8 removes these requirements for OTSBs and ELBs. Now, ALL offerors who possess these will receive 300 points on the self-scoring worksheet. OTSB and ELB offerors who do not possess these items will no longer be disqualified. This is a huge change to CIO-SP4. Notably, this is also a 50% increase in points awarded to offerors who hold ISO 9001 and 20000 certifications. This will likely expand the playing field on the OTSB and ELB end, we will have to wait and see what it does to the small business awards.

For small businesses too, possessing these licensures just became 50% more valuable. Unfortunately the cost/benefit analysis regarding whether to expend the resources to obtain these criteria just sky-rocketed less than two weeks before the due date for submission of proposals. There simply may not be enough time to obtain them.

Also, all offerors seeking a small business award with a CTA are now required to submit Reps and Certs under Section K for each CTA member. This was previously not required, however, this is now an express requirement. No penalty for failure to submit these Reps and Certs is listed, however, it stands to reason failure to meet this qualification will likely result in exclusion from consideration.

Another red tape hurdle has been identified (and it deals with the exciting, to some, world of dashes). Offerors should ONLY use small dashes like – and not large dashes. Apparently, the large dashes result in machine errors which will likely lead to exclusion of proposals. Amendment 8 clarifies that dashes are not required, and will deem proposals compliant without them. This is something to keep in mind when uploading your proposal. I, personally, am a fan of utilizing dashes, I find them to look cleaner. However, balanced against potentially missing out on $50 billion, dashes should be disfavored when uploading.

In Amendment 7, we saw a major change to how NIH would consider CTA small business arrangements. Amendment 8 reiterates Amendment 7’s interpretation, and expands upon it. Experience of large businesses will only be considered in small business categories when the large business is the mentor to a small business protégé, a large business subcontractor that is not a mentor cannot be evaluated in small business award categories. This applies to all aspects of Phase 1 and is carried through in Phase 3 evaluations. While I understand the intention behind this is for small businesses to only compete against other small businesses, it is a misguided endeavor.

Small businesses in an SBA-approved mentor-protégé arrangement are now at a huge competitive advantage. It is too late in the process for small businesses to apply for, and have the SBA approve, a mentor-protégé arrangement. Had small businesses understood this restrictive language was the intention from the outset, many small businesses would have likely made significantly different decisions. As we sit, Amendment 8 confirms that some small businesses will be left out in the cold with no ability to correct for this new interpretation.

One small bright spot for offerors, is now only one CTA member must have the requisite accounting system. Additionally during Phase 3, for OTSBs and ELBs, only prime contractor will be considered for Factor 1 – Health IT, Factor 2 – Management Approach, Subfactor 1 – Program Management, and Subfactor 3 – Corporate Commitment.

It appears the NIH has met significant pushback on Amendment 7. This was a fast and furious new amendment, along with a rather extensive addition to the M.1.1 explanation section. It appears the NIH is digging in its’ heels regarding small business evaluations, while eliminating threshold requirements OTSBs and ELBs. I hope NIH will soon remove the limitations that continue to disparately impact the small business categories. It seems with each passing amendment, CIO-SP4 is moving in separate directions for small businesses versus large.

We will keep an eye out for the next amendment, until then, please reach out with your thoughts on CIO-SP4.

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