The GSA ASTRO is the GSA’s next major multiple award IDIQ competition and perhaps the largest in 2020. The GSA ASTRO will have a ten year ordering period, with an expected budget in the tens of billions. Its scope covers operations, maintenance, readiness, development, research and development, hardware, and systems integration of manned, unmanned, and optionally manned systems, robotics, and platforms, as well as the services that support those systems, robotics, and platforms within the realm of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). GSA plans to award a maximum of 45 contracts for each of the 10 Pools (scope areas) for a maximum of 450 contracts.
Similar to previous significant opportunities by GSA, ASTRO, too, is going to use a self-scoring system for evaluation. Thus, companies intending to participate need to know the minimum score threshold for each Pool (scope area). That is the score that if you are under it, you will not win.
Since we (GDI Consulting) have prepared over 100 self-scoring projects, our clients constantly ask us this question. We have, therefore, devised an AI tool that calculates this for us. This article is about our AI’s findings and my 2-cents of extrapolation.
How Many Variables in the GSA ASTRO Bid?
In a self-scoring evaluation system, the Government provides a list of features that you are supposed to present and what each feature will weigh (score). You are supposed to provide past performed projects and certifications and capabilities that align with the requested features and claim the score. In the earlier bids such as OASIS, some factors (variables) like Past Performance or Scope feature got immensely higher scores than anything else; thus, the awardees would not necessarily show a good spread of capabilities. Here on the GSA ASTRO, although some features do have higher scores, there are so many features with nearly similar scoring, that you really need to be good at everything to have a high score.
Essentially you need to provide four contracts for each of which you get scored for 15 features. So that is 15 x 4 = 60 variables that you need to juggle around to find the highest score. Add to that 25 other general features about your company (from Government certifications to industry certification (ISO …) to clearances and SCIF capabilities to subcontract management and similar factors. So overall, for the GSA ASTRO opportunity, you need to account for 85 variables that affect your final score. If you are not a mathematician or are not good at analytics, bring in a Ph.D.
How We Calculated the Threshold?
So here is the situation: we had an AI tool that calculated possible scores with high accuracy for the previous self-scoring bids such as OASIS, Alliant, or HCaTS. But here, we needed to do the calculations for 85 variables times around 200 hundred thousand contractors (including SBs). And then do this for each of the ten Pools separately. Finally, add to that the new bonus system that kicks in for Mid-Size and Small Businesses, which increases their score from 10% to 15%.
Per our calculations, this would take weeks of processing power. So we cut down on some of the precise calculating systems in the AI and did it with the following assumptions:
- We would come up with one threshold score for the whole GSA ASTRO bid instead of for each Pool. This is obviously less accurate but will give a general view of the score.
- We would generalize for 1)Large Businesses (with over $500M annual revenue), 2)Mid-Size Businesses ($100-500M annual revenue), and 3) Small Businesses.
As a note, the sources for our AI tool calculations are 1) Government (Public) databases and 2) our own historical data gathered during the past ten years based on large and small companies’ capabilities and experience/past performance.
The below information shows the results of the AI tools calculations (which took 211 hours, nearly 9 full days to complete)for the GSA ASTRO bid:
Low Threshold (rounded):
Large Businesses: 11,400
(Experience=3,400, PP=6,000, Business Factors=2000)
Mid-Size Businesses 11,700
(Experience=2,800, PP=6,000, Business Factors=1600, Bonus Factor of 13%)
Small Businesses 10,600
(Experience=2,400, PP=6,000, Business Factors=1200, Bonus Factor of 10%)
- An error margin of ±10% must be considered.
- By Low Threshold, we mean that, for example, if only large businesses were to participate, then the lowest score would be around 11,400 ±10%.
- This is in line with the GSA’s intent to give mid-sized companies more advantage to win.
- In some pools, Small Businesses have an excellent chance to compete.
What Breaks this?
I want to make it clear that pinpointing the exact minimum score for the GSA ASTRO is indeed a search for the holy grail. At the same time, per our experience, the numbers that we have come up can break down entirely due to the following factors:
- The specific spread and capabilities of companies participating in a particular pool
- More importantly, compliance issues, issues with not maximizing scores properly and issues with not preparing the proposal properly, can indeed bring down that number considerably (as much as 20%)
I want to emphasize on that second point because I have seen it many times during the past few bidding processes for self-scoring projects. There were companies with high scores that did not submit their proposal properly, or did not perform proper compliance reviews, or did not take advantage of the score they actually deserved and claimed lower scores. These factors helped the overall threshold to drop considerably. Thus, other companies who had thought that they had little chance, actually got on the train because others dropped off.
Recommendations on Going After the GSA ASTRO Bid
- Do your maths correctly, and if you are within the ±10% range of the above numbers (could look at it at around 10,500 with the -10% error), my suggestion is to go for this bid.
- The most critical part of this project is just that: doing your math correctly! As I mentioned earlier, you need to calculate 85 different variables in relation to each other and come up with four contracts with the best score. If you have not done this before, we can help you; get outside help anyways.
- If you are preparing your proposal in-house – if you have not gone through the agonizing experience of preparing a self-scoring proposal before, my suggestion is to out-source this first one – nonetheless, you should get your proposal reviewed by a third party. This is a must and is a matter of life and death! I have personally witnessed too many sad stories on this! Review by an outside source is a critical factor.
- If you need more information on the GSA ASTRO, you can read my long article (white paper) on ASTRO at this link, or you can also watch our webinar replay on ASTRO here.