1. Are contract discussions the same thing as "Alpha Contracting"?
2. What are the requirements for expanding discussions in the interest of competition?
3. When do you say enough is enough IRT expanding discussions especially if they appear to be reducing risk to potential protest after award?
1) Alpha negotiations are used in sole source negotiations. It entails the teaming of the Government technical team and the Ktrs technical team to prepare the techinical proposal. The relationship begins well before discussions/negotiations occur. There is one case where it was tried in a source selection, but since you did not begin with alpha negotiations, you definitely can begin to use alpha now that you have set a competitive range and are in discussions.
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2) I recommend that you re-read FAR15.306 Exchanges with offerors after receipt of proposals. No place does it say that discussions should be expanded to increase competition or reduce risk of a proposal. In paticuliar look at 15.306 (d) (3) At a minimum, the contracting officer...discuss with each offeror still being considered for award, deficiencies, significan weaknesses and advesrs past performance information to which the offeror has not yet has an opportunity to respond. The KO also is encourage to discuss other aspects of the offeror's proposal that could, , in the opinion of the KO, be altered or explained to enhance materially the proposal's potential for award. However, the KO is not requird to discss every area where the proposal could be improved. ***The scop and extent of discussions are a matter of contracting officer judgement.
3) I understand the pressure that contracting officer's feel to increase competiton and reduce risk of protest. But those are not reasons to extend discussions. I would be worried about getting a protest by one of the competitors asserting that you are leveling the field. Good luck.