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Evaluating the Impact of Contracting “Tripwires” on Service Acquisitions

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Service contracts are a significant component of DoD spending. The DoD relies on the private sector for a wide range of services (e.g., consulting and administrative support, information technology services, product management services, and base operations support) in order to facilitate the delivery of important defense capabilities.

In an effort to better monitor performance of service contracts, the DoD has implemented a program of contracting “tripwires.” These are defined as “pre- and post-award metrics that provide visibility into areas of vulnerability and risk in the acquisition of services that require greater visibility and decisions by higher levels of management” (Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology & Logistics [OUSD(AT&L)], 2016). The report evaluates how tripwire implementation, on the whole and in specific instances, has impacted acquisition outcomes and examines the empirical basis for specific tripwire thresholds and their approval authorities.

DoD leadership was careful to clarify that “tripwires are not intended to restrict execution, but instead to alert and require higher-level awareness and action to remedy potential cost, schedule, or performance issues.” This clarification proved necessary yet insufficient, and shortly after their introduction, reports surfaced that contracting officers were taking pains to avoid tripping any of the thresholds.

Tripwires implementation has resulted in mixed reviews. Those related to cost, specifically tripwires placing limits on labor rates, have caused some challenges. Data on the other tripwire categories shows a positive impact. Tripwires related to bridge contracts provided insight into their use and reduced the total amount of bridge contracts used, leading to better acquisition planning. Tripwires relating to one bids also led to better acquisition outcomes by providing greater insight into why only one bid was being received for a proposal. And tripwires related to best value procurements provided important insight into whether the best value was being attained as a result of paying more for a contract.

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