What Every Federal Government Contractor Needs to Know
The Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS Rating Scale) exists to provide government source selection officials (SSOs) with a variety of types of information that SSOs need to ensure that offerors have met the requirements needed to be selected for award of government contracts.
What types of information about contractors can SSOs find in CPARS?
There are many types of information that SSOs may need in order to properly assess contractor past performance. The past performance evaluations required by many government contracts – usually written by government Contracting Officers (COs) or by Contracting Officers’ Technical Representatives (COTRs) – are recorded in CPARS. Beyond that, CPARS data can include records shedding light on a contractor’s integrity, to be used by SSOs in assessing offerors’ responsibility.
Contractor integrity records may include:
– criminal, civil, and administrative proceedings in connection with federal awards;
– suspensions and debarments;
– administrative agreements issued in lieu of suspension or debarment;
– non-responsibility determinations; terminations for cause or default;
– defective pricing determinations;
– termination for material failure to comply;
– subcontractor payment issues;
– information on trafficking in persons; and
– recipient not qualified determinations.
What CPARS ratings information must be included in a past performance evaluation?
“(1) The evaluation should include a clear, non-technical description of the principal purpose of the contract or order. The evaluation should reflect how the contractor performed. The evaluation should include clear relevant information that accurately depicts the contractor’s performance, and be based on objective facts supported by program and contract or order performance data. The evaluations should be tailored to the contract type, size content, and complexity of the contractual requirements.
(2) Evaluation factors for each assessment shall include, at a minimum, the following:
(i) Technical (quality of product or service).
(ii) Cost control (not applicable for firm-fixed-price or fixed-price with economic price adjustment arrangements).
(iv) Management or business relations.
(vi) Other (as applicable) (e.g., trafficking violations, tax delinquency, failure to report in accordance with contract terms and conditions, defective cost or pricing data, terminations, suspension and debarments).
(3) Evaluation factors may include subfactors.
(4) Each factor and subfactor used shall be evaluated and a supporting narrative provided. Each evaluation factor, as listed in paragraph (b)(2) of this section, shall be rated in accordance with a five scale rating system (i.e., exceptional, very good, satisfactory, marginal, and unsatisfactory). The ratings and narratives must reflect the definitions in the tables 42-1 or 42-2 of this section.
When the contract provides for incentive fees, the incentive-fee contract performance evaluation shall be entered into CPARS.
When the contract provides for award fee, the award fee-contract performance adjectival rating as described in 16.401(e)(3) shall be entered into CPARS.
Source: FAR 42.1503(b) and (c)
How does the CPARS Rating Scale System Work?
Tables 42.-1 and 42-2, of FAR 52.1503(h) provides the Five Scale Rating System definitions:
Performance meets contractual requirements and exceeds many to the Government’s benefit. The contractual performance of the element or sub-element being evaluated was accomplished with few minor problems for which corrective actions taken by the contractor were highly effective.
Note: To justify an Exceptional rating, identify multiple significant events and state how they were of benefit to the Government. A singular benefit, however, could be of such magnitude that it alone constitutes an Exceptional rating. Also, there should have been NO significant weaknesses identified.
(b) Very Good:
Performance meets contractual requirements and exceeds some to the Government’s benefit. The contractual performance of the element or sub-element being evaluated was accomplished with some minor problems for which corrective actions taken by the contractor were effective.
Note: To justify a Very Good rating, identify a significant event and state how it was a benefit to the Government. There should have been no significant weaknesses identified.
Performance meets contractual requirements. The contractual performance of the element or sub-element contains some minor problems for which corrective actions taken by the contractor appear or were satisfactory.
Note: To justify a Satisfactory rating, there should have been only minor problems, or major problems the contractor recovered from without impact to the contract/order. There should have been NO significant weaknesses identified. A fundamental principle of assigning ratings is that contractors will not be evaluated with a rating lower than Satisfactory solely for not performing beyond the requirements of the contract/order.
Performance does not meet some contractual requirements. The contractual performance of the element or sub-element being evaluated reflects a serious problem for which the contractor has not yet identified corrective actions. The contractor’s proposed actions appear only marginally effective or were not fully implemented.
Note: To justify Marginal performance, identify a significant event in each category that the contractor had trouble overcoming and state how it impacted the Government. A Marginal rating should be supported by referencing the management tool that notified the contractor of the contractual deficiency (e.g., management, quality, safety, or environmental deficiency report or letter).
Performance does not meet most contractual requirements and recovery is not likely in a timely manner. The contractual performance of the element or sub-element contains a serious problem(s) for which the contractor’s corrective actions appear or were ineffective.
Note: To justify Unsatisfactory CPARS ratings, identify multiple significant events in each category that the contractor had trouble overcoming and state how it impacted the Government. A singular problem, however, could be of such serious magnitude that it alone constitutes an unsatisfactory rating An Unsatisfactory rating should be supported by referencing the management tools used to notify the contractor of the contractual deficiencies (e.g., management, quality, safety, or environmental deficiency reports, or letters).
Evaluations may include Plus (+) or Minus (-) signs to indicating improving or worsening trends, and N/A should be used if a particular rating is not be applied.
Are government officials the only people who can enter contractor past performance data in CPARS?
Contractor performance evaluations may contain comments from both the government and from contractors. This allows a more balanced view of performance information. This makes the system more fair. There is often more than one side to a story. Allowing contractors to include comments in past performance evaluations allows SSOs to see and consider more than just the government reviewer’s side of a past performance story.
Are members of the general public, or a contractor’s competitors, able to use the CPARS rating scale to access a government contractor’s performance evaluations, or see other kinds of protected information?
Access to completed CPARS ratings and evaluations is restricted to individuals who are working on source selections. This includes contractor responsibility determinations. Offerors’ past performance data is “source selection sensitive” information (FAR 42.1503(d)). Therefore, contractors may view their own CPARS evaluation data, but not information about other contractors.
The public can gain access to publicly releasable information through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the information would have to be a type of information that it is legal for the government to disclose. There are a number of types of information that the government may not release to the public. If non-public information is requested through FOIA, the non-public information will either not be released at all, or if the records requested are a mix of public and non-public information, the non-public part will be redacted (blacked out or removed).
There are nine types of information that the government may not release through FOIA (nine “exemptions”):
- classified information for national defense or foreign policy
- internal personnel rules and practices
- information that is exempt under other laws*
- trade secrets and confidential business information
- inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges
- personnel and medical files
- law enforcement records or information
- information concerning bank supervision
- geological and geophysical information.
* NOTE: See 48 CFR §3.104-4, and related provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for information regarding the government’s obligations to disclose or protect contractors’ bid or proposal information and source selection information. http://farsite.hill.af.mil/reghtml/regs/far2afmcfars/fardfars/far/03.htm#P122_19774
There are three “exclusions” under FOIA as well, pertaining to criminal investigations and law enforcement (again, this information is not publicly releasable):
- Certain types of criminal investigations;
- Certain types of informant records; and
- Certain types of intelligence, counterintelligence, or terrorism records
“The first exclusion protects the existence of an ongoing criminal law enforcement investigation when the subject of the investigation is unaware that it is pending and disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings. The second exclusion is limited to criminal law enforcement agencies and protects the existence of informant records when the informant’s status has not been officially confirmed. The third exclusion is limited to the FBI and protects the existence of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism records when the existence of such records is classified. Records falling within [an] exclusion are not subject to the requirements of the FOIA.” Source: https://foia.state.gov/learn/foia.aspx
Also, senior command officials in the government are able to access CPARS ratings to run various reports, for example as Ratings Metrics Reports.
Do government contractors need to keep track of information in both PPIRS and CPARS?
Some government contractors who have been around for a while are familiar with the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS). While PPIR data continues to be collected, as of January 15, 2019, PPIRS was officially retired, and merged into CPARS. The term PPIRS it is no longer used except in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Therefore, contractors do not need to worry about PPIRS, they only need to be aware of CPARS.
Contractors do not need a separate PPIRS account, they only need a CPARS account. See https://www.cpars.gov
How is CPARS information accessed?
Government contractors: If the contractor has a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate, the contractor logs in using the Accept/Login with PKI button. If the contractor does not have a PKI certificate, an account can be set up using an email address and password.
To view data about themselves, contractors must be registered in the “System for Award Management” (SAM) and must have created a Marketing Partner Identification Number (MPIN) in the SAM profile. Contractors can view only data about themselves, they do not have access to information about other contractors.
Government employees: Government employees who need access to CPARS need a Common Access Card (CAC) or a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card.
Currently, access to the system requires a computer, and internet access, including a browser which supports 128-bit encryption, for example, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4.01 or higher. More details on browser requirements and computer support are available at https://www.cpars.csd.disa.mil.
A CPARS help desk is available to answer questions at WEBPTSMH@navy.mil, as well as a Customer Support Desk: Voice Phone: (207) 438-1690 or DSN: 684-1690.
Is it legitimate for an SSO to consider past performance information that is not in CPARS?
Each government procurement is different. The past performance and other requirements that must be met for a contractor to be eligible for award can vary greatly from one procurement to the next. SSOs are not normally confined to considering only the data from CPARs.
As long as whatever information the SSO considers is relevant, and in accordance with the terms of the solicitation, SSOs can, and often do, look to sources outside of CPARs to perform the responsiveness and responsibility analyses supporting contract award decisions. The government has a great deal of discretion to decide what to consider when making responsibility determinations. As long as all the offerors have been treated the same, and in accordance with the terms of the solicitation, normally it would be a waste of time and other resources for a contractor to try to challenge an award decision on the basis of whether the information the SSO considered was in CPARs or not.
If I am a contractor, and the past performance data for the work my firm performed on previous contracts is classified, can SSOs access it through CPARS?
CPARS ratings are designed for unclassified use only. Therefore, if you are a government contractor whose performance consisted of classified work for the government, SSO’s may need to access your past performance records through sources other than CPARS.
If past performance in classified contracting is required, at least in theory, the solicitation would provide instructions to offerors about how to handle submitting classified past performance data with their offers.
If an offeror needs to provide information about classified work that they have done in order to meet the past past performance requirements, and the solicitation does not have clear instructions regarding how to handle submitting classified past performance data, the offeror should ask the Contracting Officer for instructions as soon as possible before the date that offers are due.
What are the basic steps for the CPARS business process?
Steps 1 through 3 are the government’s responsibility. Contractors are able to participate in the process beginning with Step 4. The final review and closure of Step 6 is performed by the government.
“Step 1 – Contract Registration. Allows general contract information to be entered by anyone assigned those responsibilities. Contracts must be registered within 30 days after contract award.
Step 2 – Enter Proposed CPARS Ratings. Allows individuals assigned to management of specific contracts as an Assessing Official Rep/Assessing Official to enter proposed ratings and supporting narrative or remarks. These ratings are relative to the contractor’s performance for a specific contract.
Step 3 – Validate Proposed CPARS Ratings. Allows the Assessing Official to establish performance ratings and/or modify proposed ratings for specific contracts. The Assessing Official is required to enter their name, title, organization, etc., and forward the assessment to the Contractor Rep for review.
Step 4 – Contractor Comments. Allows the Contractor Rep being evaluated to review the proposed ratings and comment on any elements that may require further review or explanation. After review the Contractor Rep returns the assessment to the Assessing Official to continue with the workflow process.
Step 5 – Review Contractor Comments. Allows the Assessing Official to accept and finalize the assessment, or modify the proposed ratings and narrative, and/or forward the assessment to the Reviewing Official. If ratings are modified, the original proposed CPARS ratings are archived and then both ratings are forwarded to the Reviewing Official for review, comment and closure.
Step 6 – Reviewing Official Comments. Allows the Reviewing Official (if applicable) to review the ratings established by the Assessing Official and the response by the Contractor Rep to ensure that the ratings are fair and supported by objective evidence. The Reviewing Official is required to comment and close the assessment.
Once the Reviewing Official completes the actions of step 6, the assessment is considered complete…”
Completed assessments are available within about a week of closure for the government to use in future source selection information and best value decisions. Source: https://www.acq.osd.mil/dpap/ccap/cc/jcchb/Files/Topical/Past_Performance/guides/cpars_user_manual_2010_dod.pdf
Who is a “Focal Point,” and how does the Focal Point fit into the CPARS process?
FAR 42.1503(h)(2) requires agencies to establish staff who are “Focal Points” who register users to report data into the FAPIIS module of CPARS.
Focal Point input the data into CPARS, and handle other aspects of CPARS. It is possible for there to be more than one Focal Point – the CPARS system allows for the use of Alternate Focal Points. Individual Focal Points are responsible for the contracts whose data they enter. If one Focal Point enters the data for your contract, other agency Focal Points may not be able to access or update your contract information.
As a government contractor, if your past performance data is not in CPARS, or if inaccurate or incomplete information is in CPARS, that can hurt you for purposes of bidding on new contracts, and in other areas. You need to make sure your past performance data is collected and entered into CPARS. If that is not happening, or if something else is not going smoothly with the CPARS process, your Contracting Officer (CO) may be able to work with the Focal Point to help.
“The Focal Point is responsible for the collection, distribution, and control of [past performance] assessments…Focal Points coordinate [agency’s access to the CPARS system, and], is also authorized to register contracts that will require a contractor performance assessment. The Focal Point assists the Assessing Official in implementing the automated CPARS process by providing training and helping with administrative matters to ensure that assessments are completed in a timely manner and are of high quality.”
Awarded contracts must be registered in CPARS within 30 days after contract award. Contract award data is manually entered in CPARS by the Focal Point. All other data is entered by other agency officials. If there are mistakes in the contract award data, or if the contract data changes, the Focal Point can update it. The Focal Point also provides, and updates as needed, CPARS access for the various government officials responsible for inputting additional data into CPARS.
Contracts can get deleted from CPARS. If you are a contractor trying to find your contract in CPARS, and it is not there, chances are it has either not been entered in the system, or it was accidentally deleted. If this happens, you should contact your Contracting Officer (CO), notify the CO of the situation, and try to work with the CO and the Focal Point to make sure your contract is in the system.
Note that contracts not meeting the minimum dollar threshold (aggregate value of obligated funds) do not automatically display on the CPARS-eligibility reporting system. If your contract does not show up on the report because it does not have enough funds obligated to it yet, it may or may not actually be in the CPARS system.
Also, CPAR Status Reports do not include a contractor’s entire assessment information, because sometimes the government uses support contractors to do the data entry. Support contractors are not allowed to see other contractors’ past performance information.
If an agency did not appoint any specific official to perform contractor past performance evaluations, who handles that?
The Contracting Officer. See FAR 42.1503(a)(2)
My past performance evaluation in CPARS is incomplete. How did that happen?
The CPARS data entry process was designed to allow evaluations to be initiated, partially completed, and saved. While the evaluations are supposed to be fully completed and saved eventually, it is possible for someone to start writing a review, and come back later to finish it. Also, the contractor review and comment process allows evaluations to remain open and partially complete.
How long does a contractor have to review and comment on a past performance rating?
The contractor review and comment period is supposed to last 30 days, but if extenuating circumstances prevented the contractor from commenting within the 30 day period, the government Assessing Official decides whether the comment period should be extended, or the assessment will be completed without contractor comments.
Partial comments by a contractor are automatically deleted from the system, and replaced with a system-generated comment, “The report was delivered/received by the contractor on MM/DD/YYYY. The contractor neither signed nor offered comment in response to this assessment.”
I am a contractor. Yesterday, the government agency notified me that their evaluation is available for my comment, but the evaluation isn’t there yet. What happened?
Evaluations are automatically transmitted not later than 14 days after the date on which the contractor is notified of the evaluation’s availability for comment. FAR 42.1503(g). You might have to wait a few days for the information to be transmitted.
What is FAPIIS Reporting Requirements all about, and how long does it take for FAPIIS information to be posted in CPARS?
Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) information is regarding:
– defective cost or pricing information
– termination for cause or default
– human trafficking violations
– reduced or untimely payments to small businesses subcontractors.
FAPIIS information is usually publicly available.
Agencies are required to report FAPPIS information within 3 days after a Contracting Officer:
(i) Issues a final determination that a contractor has submitted defective cost or pricing data;
(ii) Makes a subsequent change to the final determination concerning defective cost or pricing data pursuant to 15.407-1(d);
(iii) Issues a final termination for cause or default notice;
(iv) Makes a subsequent withdrawal or a conversion of a termination for default to a termination for convenience;
(v) Receives a final determination after an administrative proceeding, in accordance with 22.1704(d)(1), that substantiates an allegation of a violation of the trafficking in persons prohibitions in 22.1703(a) and 52.222-50(b); or
(vi) Determines that a contractor has a history of three or more unjustified reduced or untimely payments to small business subcontractors under a single contract within a 12-month period (see 42.1502(g)(2)). FAR 52.1403(h)(1)
How long is CPARS information stored?
CPARS stores the information for 3 years after contract completion (6 Years for Architect-Engineer and Construction).
How does use of CPARS Ratings affect subcontractors?
Subcontractors are not evaluated in CPARS. However, a subcontractor’s performance (or lack thereof) certainly can have an impact on how the prime contractor is evaluated.
Prime contractors can be evaluated in CPARS for compliance with their subcontracting plan goals, and other aspects of compliance with small business subcontracting statutory requirements. Prime contractors can also be assessed on their ability to timely award and manage subcontractors, as well as failure to timely pay their small business subcontractors.
Table 42-2 Evaluation Ratings Definitions, found at FAR 42.103(h) provides a Five Scale Rating System for evaluating Small Business Subcontracting. It is similar to Table 42-1, having five rating factors:
(b) Very Good
However, the definitions are different, the definitions are tailored to compliance with subcontracting requirements of the clause at FAR 52.219-9 Small Business Subcontracting Plan.
Is the government required to use CPARS Ratings to evaluate contractors’ past performance?
Contract Performance Monitoring: CPARS is required.
The FAR requires government agencies to use CPARS to monitor contract performance.
“Agencies shall monitor their compliance with the past performance evaluation requirements (see 42.1502), and use the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) and Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) metric tools to measure the quality and timely reporting of past performance information.” FAR 42.1501(b) Note: As mentioned previously, PPIRS is now merged with CPARS.
Past performance evaluations shall be prepared at least annually and at the time the work under a contract or order is completed. FAR 42.1502(a).
See FAR Part 42.15 – Contractor Performance Information for more details regarding requirements to obtain contractor past performance information. http://farsite.hill.af.mil/reghtml/regs/far2afmcfars/fardfars/far/42.htm#P757_108704
Contract Award Decisions: CPARS is not required.
There is no absolute requirement for the government to use CPARS ratings for contract award decisions. That said, CPARS is a useful tool, so it is used frequently, and sometimes CO decisions that ignore relevant information can be challenged.
However, FAR 15.305 and other provisions clearly anticipate that contractors with no past performance data shall be considered, and not downgraded for not having past performance data. Obviously, contractors having no previous government contracting experience will not have any data recorded in CPARS.
There are requirements for the government to consider past performance:
The government must evaluate offerors’ past performance if:
– The solicitation includes past performance as an evaluation factor for award;
– The acquisition is a “negotiated competitive acquisition expected to exceed the simplified acquisition threshold” unless the CO documents the reason why past performance is not an appropriate evaluation factor for the acquisition. FAR 15.304(c)(3)(i)
The government has a great deal of discretion regarding how to evaluate proposals, including past performance. FAR 15.304 addresses proposal evaluation. It states,
“An agency shall evaluate competitive proposals and then assess their relative qualities solely on the factors and subfactors specified in the solicitation. Evaluations may be conducted using any rating method or combination of methods, including color or adjectival ratings, numerical weights, and ordinal rankings.” FAR 15.304(a)
FAR 15.305 provides more detail on Proposal Evaluation. It states,
“(2)(i) Past performance information is one indicator of an offeror’s ability to perform the contract successfully. The
– currency and relevance of the information,
– source of the information,
– context of the data, and
– general trends in contractor’s performance shall be considered.”
The solicitation shall describe the approach for evaluating past performance, including evaluating offerors with no relevant performance history, and shall provide offerors an opportunity to identify past or current contracts (including Federal, State, and local government and private) for efforts similar to the Government requirement. The solicitation shall also authorize offerors to provide information on problems encountered on the identified contracts and the offeror’s corrective actions. The Government shall consider this information, as well as information obtained from any other sources, when evaluating the offeror’s past performance. The source selection authority shall determine the relevance of similar past performance information.
(iii) The evaluation should take into account past performance information regarding predecessor companies, key personnel who have relevant experience, or subcontractors that will perform major or critical aspects of the requirement when such information is relevant to the instant acquisition.
(iv) In the case of an offeror without a record of relevant past performance or for whom information on past performance is not available, the offeror may not be evaluated favorably or unfavorably on past performance.
(v) The evaluation should include the past performance of offerors in complying with subcontracting plan goals for small disadvantaged business (SDB) concerns (see subpart 19.7).
Under FAR 15.306(4), if the government holds communications with offerors before establishing the competitive range, such communications “[s]hall address adverse past performance information to which the offeror has not previously had an opportunity to comment.”
CPARS is convenient because the CPARS ratings process provides contractors with the opportunity to comment as part of the process of entering performance evaluations into the database. Compliance with FAR 15.306(4) during communications is one less thing the SSO has to deal with.
Some final thoughts:
The FAR requires the government to evaluate contractors on many aspects of contract performance, including past performance, compliance with small business subcontracting plans, and whether a contractor has submitted defective cost or pricing data or terminated for default. This data must be submitted and recorded in CPARS, an online database. It is retained for 3 years for regular contractors, (6 years for architect/engineer contracts and construction contractors).
That said, the system is not entirely one-sided. Contractors can, and do, include their own comments in the CPARS. In order to effectively state their case through the comment system, contractors need to be aware that the contractor performance assessment reporting system exists, and of the government obligation to report, and contractors must be aware of the deadlines – especially the 30 days to post contractor comment deadlines.
It also helps to be aware of the Five Factor CPARS Ratings System (found at FAR 42.1504(h)).
CPARS data is heavily used by the federal source selection officials at all levels of contracting above the simplified acquisition threshold to decide which offeror should receive a government contract award. Protect your contractor past performance ratings, and your reputation for integrity as a business through understanding and monitoring CPARS.
Sources and further reading:
For a free and confidential consultation about CPARS Ratings and FAPIIS reporting requirements with government contracts attorney Cheryl Adams, call Watson & Associates, LLC at 1-800-601-5518 or 720-941-7200.