VA Center for Innovation

Competitions
About

FAQ: Industry Competition


General questions about VACI

A: The program is designed to tap expertise both inside and outside government to improve access to services, lower costs, improve quality, and enhance the performance of VA operations. Check out the About page for more details.

A: There is simply a greater number of worthy proposals than there are VACI dollars to fund them and people to manage them. As we establish a track record of results that improve access, enhance performance, increase quality, and lower costs, we hope that VACI grows to fund even greater numbers of innovations that serve Veterans. Until then, we select only the very top submissions with the limited budget resources we have.

A: As of April 10, 2012, VACI has received 20,000 employee ideas and nearly 600 industry submissions, and has selected 135 of those innovations for funding or potential award.

A: Winners will be posted on the VACI website when contract awards have been made and projects are underway.

A: The funding for the innovations is built upon contributions from offices and administrations within VA that cover health care, IT, and benefits delivery.

Each competition and challenge has its own set process. To be eligible to submit ideas for the annual employee competition, you must be a VA employee or a contractor with the agency. We provide detailed information on our "current competitions" page.

To submit a proposal as part of the Industry Innovation Competition, please use the instructions in the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) that we typically issue each year on our website and www.FedBizOpps.gov.

For employee challenges, we use a form of web-based crowd sourcing to narrow down the innovations based on input/feedback/votes from other employees. Innovators behind the top 100 vote-getting ideas are invited to submit more detailed proposals to illustrate how their idea would be implemented. An expert review panel called the Innovation Selection Board evaluates these proposals and winnows the list to the 25 best. The VACI director works with the Under Secretary for Health or the Under Secretary for Benefits to make final selections.

Industry Innovations Competitions are publicized through a number of outlets and venues to make sure innovators across the country are aware of the opportunity to participate. Brief concept papers are submitted to VACI through our dedicated web portal for review by our subject matter experts drawn from inside and outside VA to participate in that year’s Competition. Based on their evaluations, a select group of innovators are asked to submit full proposals based on their concept papers. Those proposals chosen by the reviewers for implementation are then presented by VACI to the Executive Selection Board (ESB).

The ESB is chaired by the Deputy Secretary of Veterans, the second in command here who serves as a Chief Operating Officer of the Department. The other members of the ESB are the Under Secretary for Health, the Under Secretary for Benefits, the VA CIO, and the VA CTO. The ESB makes final decisions on which proposed innovations go forward.

All submissions are evaluated using the following criteria:

  • The potential impact, benefits, and contributions of the solution for the VA mission and areas of interest
  • The quality of the proposed solution design
  • The quality of the proposed implementation plan
  • The scalability of the proposed solution
  • The innovator’s capabilities, related expertise/experience, facilities, techniques, or unique combinations of these factors that are vital for the achievement of proposal objectives
  • The cost-effectiveness of the solution in proportion to its potential impact/benefits

As of July 2012, 135 innovations have been funded through VACI. This includes innovations from six employee challenges, two industry challenges and special projects and prize competitions.

A: This can vary, depending upon the nature of specific innovations. Some ideas have been funded and ramped up to pilot test status in a matter of a few months, while others have been lengthy. However, one of the essential criteria of VACI innovations is that ideas can deliver tangible results within 24 months. These results serve as the basis for whether an innovation is ready for wider scale implementation across VA.

Submission and Eligibility

A: On the Virtual Office of Acquisition website.

A: VACI is committed to broadening our engagement with the private sector and to encouraging entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes to consider making innovative proposals that serve the needs of Veterans. While VACI encourages all proposals, in order to conduct business with the Government, contractors must be registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database.

A: Yes, past participation in a VACI competition has no impact on your ability to participate in a future competition.

A: In accordance with PL 98-369, entitled "The Competition in Contracting Act of 1984" and FAR Part 35.016, this BAA is for full and open competition. There are no exclusions of sources or set-asides.

A: International entries will be accepted.

A: No, there are no limitations. Academic institutions are encouraged to participate. Please note that in order to do business with the Government, offerors must be registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database prior to award of a contract.

A: Registration in www.ccr.gov is performed by the contractor, which may take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to process. Please see the CCR User's guide for registration information.

A: Written confirmation is required. The Government will follow up confirmations during proposal evaluations.

A: Yes, however, each proposal should be a genuinely separate idea. Do not submit the same concept for multiple topics. If you think your concept could be applicable across multiple topics, please submit it only for the one topic where you think it will have the greatest impact and list which other topics it might address in the submission.

A: For the VACI Industry competition, it is not difficult for early stage companies to receive awards, and you are not required to partner with anyone. A full spectrum of business types has received VACI awards in the past. In fact, some of those entities were created specifically for the VACI program. Focus on the proposal and your technical qualifications and plan.

A: In 2011, we received 260 concept papers, from which we invited 69 offerors to submit full proposals. In 2012, we received 249 concept papers and invited 56 offerors to submit full proposals.

A: No, for the purpose of these awards, there is no Veterans preference. The awards will be based on the merits of the proposal.

A: VA is interested in developing open source capabilities, but we will not exclude proposals that offer proprietary software.

A: Yes.

A: It doesn't matter to us. It is not an evaluation criterion.

A: It is not required or preferred by the Government that organizations have a federal contracting history.

A: The VACI Industry Innovation Competition is looking for solutions submitted by industry. Private-sector entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes may submit concept papers. In order to conduct business with the Government, offerors must be registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) database prior to contract award. VA clinicians or staff may not participate in concept paper preparation; however, a concept paper for the implementation of a process by VA doctors in a VA facility or a pilot program at a specific VA facility is acceptable. Do not include the costs for VA salary support in the Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM).

Webinar

A: Yes, copies will be made available on the Industry Innovation Competition page and at FebBizOpps.

A: Yes, the list of attendees will be posted on the Industry Innovation Competition page.

Topics

A: You may, but they have to be distinct concepts.

A: A separate concept paper is needed for each topic.

A: You are welcome to submit under multiple topics or make multiple submissions for a single topic, but each submission should be a separate idea/concept. If you think your concept could be applicable across multiple topics, please submit it only once for the topic where you think it will have the greatest impact.

A: Yes. Because the Industry Innovation Competition uses a Broad Agency Announcement instead of a traditional RFP, proposals are not judged against one another but rather against selection criteria. VACI could make as many awards as there are promising ideas and for which funds are available.

A: Yes, VA will only consider proposals for the topics identified in the active BAA.

A: Proposals should be submitted under the topic area where they will have the greatest impact. The topic should be clearly identified within the Transmittal Letter. More than one proposal can be submitted as long as each proposal pertains to the BAA topics.

Collaboration

A: Absolutely. You may find it easiest to pick one party to serve as the prime contractor with other parties serving as sub-contractors.

A: Not necessarily. If one party is the prime contactor that will be awarded the contract by VA, and that party sub-contracts portions of the work to others, only the prime needs to be registered in the CCR.

A: Yes.

A: No.

VA Employees and Facilities

A: VA clinicians or staff may not legally participate in concept paper or proposal preparation, per 18 U.S.C. § 203 and 205. However, a concept paper or proposal for the implementation of a process by VA doctors in a VA facility or a pilot program at a specific VA facility is acceptable. Do not include the costs for VA salary support in the Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) or cost proposal.

A: VA clinicians or staff may not legally participate in concept paper or proposal preparation, per 18 U.S.C. § 203 and 205. However, a concept paper or proposal for the implementation of a process by VA doctors in a VA facility or a pilot program at a specific VA facility is acceptable. Do not include the costs for VA salary support in the Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) or cost proposal.

A: It is not necessary to include VA salary support for VA partners. The VA has an internal mechanism for compensation of VA partners for pilot or field tests.

A: Letters of support are neither expected nor required, but may be included in concept papers and/or full proposals. Please note that letters will count against the page limit.

A: VA employees may not participate in concept paper or proposal preparation.

A: Yes, this ban also applies to uncompensated VA employees.

A: There is no need to have a relationship with specific VA personnel or a VA facility before submitting a proposal. Include in your proposal as much detail as you know or feel is relevant (for example, if you wanted to test deployment in a rural vs. urban area, you should specify that), and as part of the evaluation process we will match up your proposal with potential VA people and facilities. If you happen to know of particular individuals that you think would be particularly helpful to your effort, feel free to identify them. There is no guarantee that VA can secure participation from specific individuals, but our goal is to make the proposals that we choose as successful as possible.

Pilots and Field Tests

A: No, there is no specific number of Veterans that should be targeted for a pilot program. The size of any pilot should be driven by what the offeror believes is a reasonable number to achieve the expected results.

A: No, all patients evaluated in the project do not have to be VA patients. Since VACI is designed to allow VA to evaluate the impact that new solutions might have on VA services, we are, of course, interested in evaluating how a new solution will impact the Veteran population. However, it may not be necessary for a project to include only VA patients to accomplish this.

A: VACI is designed to allow VA to evaluate the impact that new solutions might have on VA services. Testing new solutions in a VA environment usually supports an effective pilot evaluation. However, it is possible to demonstrate the viability of a new solution in a non-VA environment, and proposals may be submitted to that effect. Clinical trials in particular may be best conducted in an external environment. Offerors may want to consider adding an additional phase for a VA environment field test, if appropriate.

A: Submissions should include plans that demonstrate the suitability of the innovation for use by VA. In many cases, this will involve a pilot test or trial that may (but does not have to) involve deployment to a limited set of Veterans, clinicians, or others as appropriate. If the viability of an innovation can be established by lab testing or a non-production proof of concept then it is not necessary to include a pilot or trial program.

A: Proposals should demonstrate a clear benefit to Veterans with a prototype or field test ideally within one year, and in no more than two years, of the award date.

A: Projects must demonstrate the viability of the innovation within 1-2 years. A demonstration of viability may be different for different innovations; for example, a proof of concept for a completely new solution may be appropriate, while a field trial may be appropriate for an innovation that is new to VA but based on existing technology.

A: The Industry Innovation Competition is open to both Development and Field Test proposals, depending on the nature of the solution being proposed. The goal is to reach an end deliverable of a prototype that can be evaluated, or a set of field test results that can be evaluated. In both cases, the evaluation is to determine the potential benefit of broad VA deployment. For clinical solutions, a clinical trial may be the best way to achieve this evaluation. For IT solutions, a pilot deployment may be best. For devices, a prototype test may be best. Your proposal should include whichever method you think will best produce results that clearly demonstrate the value of the solution to VA.

A: In general, RCTs are best pursued via more traditional channels, such as a grant or research project in partnership with VA researchers. The VA Office of Research and Development funds research by VA investigators.

A: Optimal fit is a balance between scale, cost, and impact. Small efforts allow us to take risks more easily.

A: Yes, if your submission requires the involvement of Veterans, clinicians, or other VA employees, the VACI team will facilitate access.

A: The cost for Veteran participation in a clinical trial should not be included in the contract cost.

A: Information collected from the public, including Veterans, may be subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act. OMB has a "Fast Track" process which greatly reduces the amount of time necessary to obtain approval for eligible instruments of data collection. However, it is not something you need to worry about when designing your proposal. If you propose to collect data from Veterans via surveys, focus groups, etc., assume that VA will submit the questions to OMB as required.

A: If an IRB is required for a field test involving VA patients, VA will conduct the review with input from the contractor. The process may take several months.

Process

A: Questions should be forwarded through the Technology Acquisition Center (TAC) to Carol Newcomb. Her email address is in the BAA.

A: We intend to evaluate concept papers periodically in groups as they come in, so the timeline will depend in part on the rate of submissions. Unlike our past BAAs, which were open for several weeks or months, this BAA will remain open for two years. However, concept papers will be evaluated in order of submission, and we are anxious to receive proposals that we can begin to act on soon. Check the VOA for the status of your submission.

A: In the Broad Agency Announcement, VACI states explicitly the criteria by which innovations are evaluated. Proposals are reviewed by VACI staff and evaluated by subject matter experts in each area of interest in the competitions. Experts come mostly from within the Federal government, but VACI also invites experts from industry to participate in these evaluations. These individuals are prohibited from submitting proposals to a competition topic for which they are serving as a reviewer. Proposals submitted under the Industry Innovation Competitions are evaluated on their own merit and will not necessarily compete against other proposals in their area of interest for funding.

A: The Government will notify every contractor whether the concept paper or full proposal is or is not accepted.

A: During the concept paper evaluation process, you may receive an email if we have specific issues/questions regarding your concept paper. Otherwise, all offerors will be notified via the Virtual Office of Acquisition (VOA) if they are invited to submit a full proposal or if the concept paper has not been selected for continuation into Stage 2. We will provide you with a brief explanation as to why your concept paper was not selected.

A: There is no limitation on re-submission, but please be sure your concept paper is substantially different. In contrast to an RFP, the BAA does not allow us to tell you how to improve your idea. However, we can tell you why you were not selected based on the selection criteria presented in the BAA.

A: If a proposal is accepted, a follow-on solicitation containing the appropriate clauses and regulation guidelines will be provided to the contractor.

A: Unfortunately, due to the number of proposals we receive for these competitions, critiques and/or feedback will not be given.

A: The contracts awarded from this BAA have no association with the T4 contract vehicle or any other existing contract vehicle. If a proposal is selected for award, the Contracting Officer will provide solicitation documents containing the terms and conditions of the proposed contract, and will commence negotiations with the contractor.

A: Funded projects will be listed on the Innovation Map.

A: Yes. Once your proposal is accepted, we work together to flesh out a Performance Work Statement.

A: Yes, offerors whose proposals are selected will work closely with VA subject matter experts, both prior to award and during project execution.

A: When a project completes, we evaluate its success and decide how we would like to move forward. This may involve broader deployment, further development and testing, or documentation of lessons learned.

Awards and Funding

A: We will determine whether your rates are fair and reasonable (e.g., by comparing them to GSA rates).

A: A ROM is a ballpark estimate of what it would cost if we were to go forward with a contract award. We request a ROM so that we can assess the cost-effectiveness of your solution relative to its potential benefits. By "rough," we mean within 10-15% or so of the actual cost.

A: Funding for VACI is appropriated annually in the President's budget for VA. While that means that funding is budgeted for VACI programs—including the Industry Innovation Competition—award amounts are subject to the availability of remaining funds. This tends to favor submissions made earlier in the competition.

A: There is no set dollar value, although we do have budgetary limitations. In evaluating your submission, we will assess cost, value, and risk. We are willing to assume some risk, but we need to balance that risk with the potential value of your innovation.

A: There are no target amounts set aside for each topic within this BAA. We will look at proposals of any size. Note that these are not meant to be nationwide system deployments—just pilot projects that we can evaluate prior to any national deployment.

A: No, there is no standard to determine the contract value. The value will be based on negotiation and agreement of the final cost/price based on the offeror's cost/price proposal.

A: Do not include the costs for work done by VA employees at VA sites in the proposed costs.

A: The number of awards is not predefined. Because this is a BAA, we have the flexibility to review the concept papers and invite as many offerors to submit a full proposal as meet our criteria. We anticipate that a subset of proposals will be selected for award. We hope to receive many submissions that address the BAA topics in interesting and innovative ways.

A: In 2011, we requested 69 full proposals from 260 concept papers, or roughly 25 percent. Thirteen of those proposals were selected for potential award, which is five percent of the original 260 submissions. In 2010, the number awarded was closer to ten percent.

A: First, this is not a grant program; the resulting actions will be FAR-based contracts, most of which will be firm-fixed-price. There is no specific accounting system required unless you propose to use a Cost Reimbursement contract type, in which case you will need an approved accounting system in accordance with FAR 16.301-3(a)(1). We can also use other vehicles if necessary.

A: Payment schedules will vary between contracts, but payments are generally associated with milestones and deliverables.

Ideas and Intellectual Property

A: Generally, intellectual property issues for any proposal will be a matter for negotiation during the contract formulation, consistent with IAW FAR Subpart 27.4—Rights in Data and Copyrights.

A: The submission of a concept paper is merely the first step in determining VA's interest in exploring the potential for an invitation to submit a full proposal and potentially a contract award. As stated in the BAA, an invitation to submit a full proposal does not guarantee a contract award.

A: An idea is not made public just by the act of submission. As stated in the BAA, it is the policy of VACI to treat all concept papers as privileged information. The BAA provides instructions regarding restrictive marking on proposals.

A: Yes. The CO will include the data rights security clause within the contract.

A: The Government considers the overall impact of the solution and the most cost effective way to procure the innovative idea, in accordance with the procedures set forth in the BAA.

A: The Government is looking for innovative ideas that increase Veteran access to VA services, reduce or control the costs of delivering those services, enhance the performance of VA operations and improve the quality of service that Veterans and their families receive. These ideas can modify existing practices, represent solutions never before implemented, or be proven solutions from other applications that have never been used at VA.

A: Development proposals should be able to demonstrate a clear benefit and be ready for broad deployment within 12–24 months.

A: The VACI Industry Innovation Competition seeks innovations that either are already commercially available or can be prototyped and evaluated within 12–24 months. Note that this is not a grant. Selected proposals may be awarded a contract with specific milestones and deliverables.

A: We are looking for ideas that can be piloted or field tested within 12–24 months. To the extent feasible, moving faster is better.

A: No. It is based on the date of contract award and the period of performance.

A: Yes, proposals should include a field test or prototype evaluation as part of the period of performance.

A: "Scalability" refers to the ability of the proposed innovation to be deployed VA-wide. While there is no guarantee of any deployment of an innovation beyond the conclusion of the VACI project, should VA decide that broad production deployment would be beneficial, the complexity and cost of deployment at scale becomes important. Offerors are not required to submit deployment plans; it is sufficient to provide a discussion (which may be largely qualitative) of how the innovation might be scaled beyond the initial project.

A: As described in the BAA, the implementation plan addresses the proposed schedule, milestones, and deliverables for the innovation project, as well as the personnel, facilities, management, and structure of the organization. The implementation plan is a required component of the full proposal.

Questions about the Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)

A: The BAA is posted here on FedBizOpps.

A: We have removed the requirement to write the technical proposal in a clear and concise Performance Work Statement (PWS). However, the technical proposal will serve as the basis for developing a PWS during the negotiation process. Therefore, please ensure that the technical proposal clearly defines all tasks to be performed.

A: A CAGE Code is a five-position code that identifies companies doing or wishing to do business with the Federal Government. The CAGE Code request process is incorporated into the CCR registration. Your company will be assigned a CAGE Code during the processing of your registration. Please see the CCR User's Guide for registration information.

A: Hyperlinks are not permitted in proposals or concept papers.

A: "Period of performance" means the contract length. The "proposed amount" means the fair and reasonable dollar amount for your innovative idea.

A: On page 10 of the BAA, there are specific instructions as to what must be included. Beyond that, the format can be of your choosing as long as you cover all required topics.

A: VACI has provided a PowerPoint template for the summary slide, also available as an attachment on FedBizOpps. Summary slides should follow this template and be submitted as a PDF document (you can save a PowerPoint file as a PDF with the "save as" feature).

A: Concept papers may not exceed 4 pages in length, not counting the summary slide and cover page. Full proposals are limited to 50 pages. Please review the BAA for submission guidelines.

A: The 4-page limit DOES include the reference list.

A: Yes, one of the components of the "Proposed Approach" section should be a description of the potential impact and benefits of the proposed innovation. A discussion of previously demonstrated benefits can be included as supporting evidence.

A: At the concept paper stage, your submission is limited to the concept paper, cover sheet, and summary slide. Multimedia attachments and hyperlinks are not permitted.

Miscellaneous

A: Funded innovations are available on the Innovation Map.

A: We encourage you to review these FAQs and the Industry Innovation Competition page for additional information that may be of help.

A: The VACI team will work with offerors on a case-by-case basis if photographs are required. For example, photographs of VA facilities or equipment to be used in project planning during the execution phase of an innovation project may be allowed; photographs of Veterans, patients, or employees may not be allowed under some circumstances.

A: It depends on the context. We often use the term "implementation" in the context of an innovation project to refer to a pilot or field test, where the technology or solution is evaluated in a live VA setting. We may also speak of "implementation" following the pilot or field test, when a successful innovation is transitioned to a more permanent deployment at VA.

A: We will address matters of contract performance on a situational basis.

Competitions