A Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) is a merit-based source selection strategy for the Department of Defense (DoD) to acquire innovative commercial items, technologies, or services that directly fulfill requirements, close capability gaps, or provide potential technological advances. It’s focused on businesses or institutions that have “not traditionally” done business with the U.S. Government. CSO was authorized by Section 879 of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Hilary Lewis, Chief for the Managed Care Contracting Division’s TRICARE Support Branch spoke with Jeff Schmidt, DAU. They discussed the challenges, benefits, and lessons learned using this innovative acquisition approach.
In November 2019, Lewis served as the lead business advisor for the $39 million FY2018 NDAA Section 731. Section 731 directed the Patient Navigator Pilot Program using Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) Pilot Program. The goal of the CSO program was to improve the health outcomes and the patient experience for certain TRICARE Select beneficiaries.
Lewis and her team brainstormed on how they could use this pilot program to resolve challenges. The team decided to pursue this pilot under a stand-alone contract apart from the existing TRICARE managed care support contracts. Meckel saw an opportunity to inject innovation and creativity into the contracting process by opening the bidding process to a more diverse vendor pool.
Lewis and her team discussed the opportunities and limitations of the directive and created a plan to leverage non-traditional government sources. In addition to expanding the pool of possible industry partners, Lewis's team streamlined the way they evaluated source selection. The team knew when awarding a contract to a non-traditional source extra administrative steps are required. These steps ensure all pro-forma and government specific are met. Lewis and her team created a framework that met all of the requirements and then allowed vendors to share their proposed solutions.
The CSO framework Lewis and team established reduced the burden on industry to compete, enhanced the communication and collaboration between industry and the Government and allowed greater flexibility to obtain widely varying proposed solutions. The CSO authority allowed the team to take advantage of innovation present in the commercial marketplace. In addition to more options the team found this approach led to a more compact schedule and competitive commercial pricing. Lewis stated that she and her team were able to collapse the traditional acquisition schedule from over 28 months to less than 10 months.
Lewis shared how Industry responded and how highly they valued the opportunity to sell their approach in person at the "pitch day". The contracting team was able to focus on the key elements of the solutions during the presentations. This added focus allowed the team to streamline the selection process. They call their new approach a 'collaborative consensus' which allowed all participants to work together as a team to select the awardee.
Lewis commented on the impact of creative thinking, specifically 'how much streamlining is possible if you think creatively."
The past Defense Health Agency Head of Contracting Agency and current Defense Pricing and Contracting, John Tenaglia, noted; "Well done! Very thoughtful and creative."