Traditionally, performance-based contracting methods have used the term "quality assurance" to refer to the functions performed by the government to determine whether a contractor has fulfilled the contract obligations pertaining to quality and quantity. The term "quality assurance," however, does not accurately capture the true essence of performance-based service acquisition, since agencies do not "assure quality"--rather they assess contractor performance. As such, performance assessment is not surveillance. In a performance-based environment, it is the contractor that is contractually responsible for quality assurance, further motivated through various kinds of incentives such as award-fee and past performance assessments. Agencies are still responsible for ensuring that they get what they are paying for by periodically evaluating performance through the appropriate assessment methods. Hereafter, "performance assessment" will be used in place of the term "quality assurance otherwise noted.
Performance Assessment Plan
A performance assessment plan describes how government personnel will evaluate and assess contractor performance. It is intended to be a "living" document that should be revised or modified as circumstances warrant. It is based on the premise that the contractor, not the government, is responsible for managing and ensuring that quality controls meet the terms of the contract. If the performance assessment plan is not incorporated into the contract, it should nevertheless be furnished to the contractor.
Quality Control Plan
A quality control plan is a plan developed by the contractor for its internal use to ensure that it performs and delivers high-quality service. Often the quality control plan is part of the contractor's original proposal, and in many cases it is incorporated into the resultant contract.
Assessment Methods
Several methods can be used to evaluate a contractor's performance. Below are some examples of commonly used assessment methods:
Random sampling: Random sampling is a statistically based method that assumes receipt of acceptable performance if a given percentage or number of scheduled assessments are found to be acceptable. The results of these assessments help determine the government's next course of action vis-a-vis the contractor, if necessary, and whether adjustments in this method of assessment are necessary. If performance is considered marginal or unsatisfactory, the evaluators should document the discrepancy or finding and begin corrective action. If performance is satisfactory or exceptional, they should consider adjusting the sample size or sampling frequency. Random sampling is the most appropriate method for frequently recurring tasks. It works best when the number of instances is very large and a statistically valid sample can be obtained.
Periodic Sampling: Periodic sampling is similar to random sampling, but it is planned at specific intervals or dates. It may be appropriate for tasks that occur infrequently. Selecting this tool to determine a contractor's compliance with contract requirements can be quite effective, and it allows for assessing confidence in the contractor without consuming a significant amount of time.
Trend analysis: Trend analysis should be used regularly and continually to assess the contractor's ongoing performance over time. It is a good idea to build a database from data that have been gathered through performance assessment. Additionally, contractor-managed metrics may provide any added information needed for the analysis. This database should be created and maintained by government personnel.
Customer feedback: Customer feedback is firsthand information from the actual users of the service. It should be used to supplement other forms of evaluation and assessment, and it is especially useful for those areas that do not lend themselves to the typical forms of assessment. However, customer feedback information should be used prudently. Sometimes customer feedback is complaint-oriented, likely to be subjective in nature, and may not always relate to actual requirements of the contract. Such information requires thorough validation.
Third-party audits: The term "third-party audits" refers to contractor evaluation by a third-party organization that is independent of the government and the contractor. All documentation supplied to, and produced by, the third party should be made available to both the government and the contractor.
Performance Assessment Plan Development
Performance assessment plans should be developed in conjunction with the preparation of the performance work statement. For every performance objective listed in the Performance Requirements Analysis, determine one or more methods of performance assessment. Also make sure that the methods allows for adequate assessment of the performance standard itself. In other words, will random sampling allow you to adequately measure performance in relation to the stated performance standard?
The performance assessment plan should outline the acceptance process and should state how acceptance of services will occur (i.e., DD-250, etc).
Performance assessment plans should describe how performance information is to be captured and documented so that it can later serve as past performance information.
Effective use of the performance assessment plan, in conjunction with the contractor's quality control plan, will allow the government to evaluate the contractor's success in meeting the specified contract requirements.
Those assessment methods identified in the performance assessment plan, together with the contractor's quality control plan, will also help in evaluating the success with which the contractor delivers the level of performance agreed to in the contract.
Some Considerations for Determining the Appropriate Assessment Method
o What is the most effective way to assess the contractor's performance outcomes in relation to the associated performance standards?
o How critical is this particular task to the requirement and to the overall mission? Is performance assessment critical to a particular task, and is it is worth the government's time and effort?
o How long should the assessment period be? How is this linked to the criticality of the task? How frequently should performance assessment take place?
o What is the availability and of assessors (quality assurance evaluators)? Are there enough evaluators to carry out the degree of evaluation contemplated?
o do the proposed evaluation methods represent a common commercial practice for the particular service area?
o Is re-performance practical or reasonable?
Suggested Performance Assessment Plan Outline
o Purpose
o Roles and responsibilities
o Procedures
o Methods of assessment
o Successful performance and remedies
o Certification of services
o Sample of contract discrepancy report
o Customer complaint procedures and training instructions
o Acronyms and other abbreviations
o TIP: Employ a variety of techniques. Degrees of performance assessment should be based on the criticality of the service or task and also on the resources available to accomplish the assessment.
o TIP: Recognize that the methods and degrees of performance assessment may change over time in proportion to the evaluator's level of confidence (high or low) in the contractor's performance.
o TIP: Degrees of performance assessment are typically based upon difficulty or criticality of a service--the greater the difficulty or criticality, the more performance assessment may initially be necessary.

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