Debriefings – Get the Facts

May 22, 2007 on 5:55 pm | In Bids and Proposals | Comments Off

A client called today to let me know that a $6 million proposal they had submitted had been lost to a higher priced offeror. Their concern was twofold. First, they had been told that they had not met the technical requirements. Second they were told that they had not assured the government that they would meet the delivery schedule. What were their options?

Now it’s important to note that I had never read the solicitation, had not participated in their proposal process, and had not been provided a copy of their proposal. I have no idea if they followed my usual advice to create a solicitation compliance matrix to ensure that they had in fact (and could prove) that they had met each and every RFP requirement. In other words, the evaluation may be 100% accurate. But I had no way of knowing that.

My first suggestion was that they request a debriefing, and that they do so immediately. Why immediately? According to regulations, a debriefing is to be provided to assist the offeror in learning how to provide a better response to this contracting office in the future. But we all know that there are additional reasons to get a debriefing. The most important alternate reason is to preserve any rights that you might have with a timely protest – the biggest benefit of which could be the prevention or cessation of performance until the protest is settled. While the agency has certain “override” authority even in the face of a protest, it is important to do what you can to preserve your rights and options.

How do you request a debriefing? Simply put it in writing! But there is an art to crafting such a request. You want to provide the reasons for the debriefing and a brief description of why you believe that a mistake might have been made. In this case the supplies being furnished were the exact same part number and manufacturer as the one offered by the successful offeror! How could they be technically compliant for one offeror, but not for the other? Worthwhile question to ask. Further the offeror could point to three places in their proposal where they provided information on the delivery schedule and their ability to meet it. Curious that the government would not have seen that.

We reviewed the draft letter for the client, and added language that softened the tone, but made clear that if satisfactory explanations could not be provided the client was prepared to go to the next step – filing a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). They dispatched the letter this afternoon and are awaiting an answer.

Why is all of this important? Agencies do make mistakes, and it is always best to give them a chance to either correct it or to provide an explanation for their actions and decisions. It is relatively inexpensive to file a protest, but responding to the agency’s report to the GAO can begin to raise the costs considerably and quickly. If a hearing is held (usually in DC) the costs climb proportionately. If an agency has truly done something wrong in the procurement process, GAO is a reasonable and effective review option. But start with the debriefing. Get the facts. Even if you disagree with the decision, at least understand why the agency believes its decision was sound. Occasionally the agency takes a position at this stage that “locks them in” to a basis for their action; giving them no chance to change their story when they think of a better one later. But be courteous, allow them a reasonable out if they have made a mistake, and don’t forget that the REAL reason for a debriefing is to learn how to prepare better proposals for THIS customer. Even if a protest is not the ultimate objective, a debriefing should always be requested. There is a lot you can learn and put to use on future proposals.

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