What the hell does "Best Value" mean and how is it different from "Low Bid?"
Well, the intention, when W changed the Feds focus from lowest cost to best value was to take quality into account. In other words, fed buyers (aka contracting officers) do not have to select the lowest price. It's also supposed to provide some assurance to the vendor that they can sell something without being low-balled.
According to FedMarket, the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs for short) give COs flexibility and considerable latitude in making a purchasing decision (they're some pretty powerful peeps). Under FAR, the term "best value" means the expected outcome of an acquisition provides the greatest overall benefit in response to the requirement. In short, the rules give contracting officers the latitude to go with a higher price based on best value considerations, with no restrictions on what best value considerations have to be. Anything can be considered a best value factor as long as it makes sense and has cost and performance implications. Of course, the government holds all of the cards and can do just about anything it wants in making an award as long as it appears to be cost effective and in the best interests of the taxpayer.
Best value procurements are supposed to announce that the technical evaluation factors, collectively, are more important than price. According to Michael Payne, the award to a higher priced proposal must balance cost against the best interest of the Government. “The perceived benefits of the higher priced proposal shall merit the additional cost" Sounds good? It's especially good for archeology, where shoddy work equals irrevocable loss of information. Not so fast...the U.S. Court of Federal Claims has held that price cannot be ignored simply because it is to be given less weight than the technical factors, and the Court has also stated an evaluation that fails to give price its due consideration is inconsistent with Federal contracting laws and cannot serve as a reasonable basis for an award.
So much for "best value."
Instead, here's what we've wound up with:
"Best value will be determined by proposals that are deemed technically acceptable and present the lowest cost to the Government."
In action, what this means is the contracting officer sorts proposals by price, delivers the lowest priced one to the technical representative, and asks "is this proposal 'technically acceptable' or not." If it is, they get the award.