The overall score for this Request for Proposals is 50.6 percent, making it moderately risky.
This request for proposals (“RFP”) is for the provision of services that help individuals with disabilities find and maintain gainful employment. These “core rehabilitation services” (CRS) include pre-employment transition services, post-secondary counseling, job exploration counseling, self-advocacy training, work readiness services, work-based learning development, work-based learning experience, and work-based coaching supports for students. The program is administered by Adult Career and Continuing Education Services-Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR), a division of the New York State Department of Education (NYSED).
Opaque and Inadequate Funding
While the RFP is transparent as to what the payment rates are—for which HSC commends NYSED—it is unclear how NYSED arrived at these rates. More importantly, in the opinion of providers, the rates are not commensurate with the level of each client’s need or the requirements. Specifically, they do not allow for payment of the prevailing wage, do not cover the high administrative costs associated with the ACCES-VR’s reporting and other compliance requirements, and generally bear no relationship to the services sought. The funding is especially inadequate for first-time CRS vendors due to the arbitrary contract cap of $75,000 per new provider. Indeed, it is our understanding that several New York City providers have shuttered their CRS programs due to the inadequacy of their NYSED contracts.
Furthermore, while the RFP does not technically require matching private funds, it is likely that many providers would need additional funding to cover the costs of ACCES-VR services—especially those serving clients with more challenging behaviors and/or circumstances. In fact the RFP does call for respondents to “have established funding for Supported Employment” extended through either the New York State Office for People [w]ith Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), or the Office of Mental Health (OMH). This demonstrates the insufficiency of ACCES-VR’s capacity to provide long-term employment supports.
In addition to the risk arising from insufficient funding, the RFP builds in a significant element of uncertainty. NYSED “reserves the right to adjust the contract value over the life of the contract when it can establish that there is no longer sufficient capacity for a particular service within a region.” This makes it difficult for awardees to plan for the future with confidence.
It should also be noted that the RFP explicitly denies applicants the opportunity to negotiate their awards, essentially making contracting a one-size-fits-all process. This is especially troubling given the diversity of rehabilitation service providers in terms of size, structure, location, and available resources. That a small upstate organization and a large New York City organization will automatically be paid at the same rate is a clear indicator that the rates were not developed with actual cost in mind.
While the RFP does allow for cost-of-living adjustments, they are subject to ACCES-VR’s discretion and the availability of funds. To reduce the risk, NYSED must make COLAs a standard contract clause, unfettered by administrative discretion.
The RFP indicates that payment for the requested services will be performance-based. Performance-based contracts carry their own set of risks that are separate from the risks associated with low rates. In this case, the RFP provides: “Following the year 2 CRS contract reconciliation, vendors with utilization below 33% of total contract value will have their estimated contract value reduced by the difference between actual expenditure and 33% of total 5 year contract value.” Thus, ACCES-VR is not promising that providers will receive all of the referrals that they have the capacity to serve. This shifts a great deal of risk to the providers, who could hire staff and purchase materials to serve a certain number of clients only to find out that it will not have enough referrals to cover the cost of these investments.
While the RFP does not require a particular reporting system by name, it requires that awardees use systems that “have the capacity to provide program reports electronically using encryption software compatible with ACCES-VR.” This in effect limits providers to a small number of systems. According to providers, however, the ACCES-VR system is archaic, and the billing is still “largely paper-based and error prone.” ACCES-VR should cover the cost of the necessary reporting systems. Furthermore, even beyond reporting, administrative costs associated with CRS are high and not addressed through this particular RFP’s budget model.
This RFP was released on August 15, and responses are due by October 18. HSC commends NYSED for giving providers more than two months to craft their responses and gather the required documentation.
Pre-application Customer Support
ACCES-VR is responsive to inquiries and has scheduled a bidders’ webinar for a reasonable date. It also requires electronic submission of applications. It should be noted, however, that responses to this RFP must be submitted via email rather than through Grants Gateway.
The RFP itself includes a helpful description of the performance indicators against which awardees will be evaluated. We encourage NYSED to continue to provide this information in its solicitation documents, as it helps prospective applicants better assess the risk that comes with each opportunity.
Furthermore, unsuccessful bidders have the option of requesting a debriefing letter from NYSED. Ideally, this letter will help them understand why they were not selected for an award. The RFP also includes instructions on how to protest an award decision. This adds to the transparency of the competitive process and can help providers tailor their business models to NYSED’s need should they so desire.
The HSC RFP Rater assesses the feasibility, opportunities, and risk in City and State human services procurements. Rater scores are based on the RFP and related documents available to the public via New York City’s HHS Accelerator or New York State’s Grants Gateway. The rater consists of 60 questions developed and tested by a team of procurement professionals. The questions are based on information that is necessary to help prospective proposers assess risk.
Each answer is weighted based on the degree of risk inherent in the subject of the question. Answers that imply low to moderate risk are allotted points on a lower scale range compared to higher risk questions. For compound questions, the answer to both parts must be “yes” or “not applicable” to be considered low risk. Scores are calculated by adding all the question scores together. The higher the score, the greater the risk. The scoring range is from 60 to 230, with zero percent risk equal to a score of 60 and the maximum risk score or 100% equal to 230 points. Users can view the answer to each question by clicking the down arrow next to each section to expand the section.
The HSC RFP Rater does not substitute for the due diligence necessary to inform each individual organization’s decisions.