Over the previous two blog posts, we examined some of the more regular communications from the government throughout a procurement. Before diving into the conclusion, let’s recap quickly what was covered.
In the PLAN phase of the process, the government is very much interested in learning more about their requirement. How is it executed in the commercial environment? How is it procured? IS it procured in the commercial environment? While step 3 of the Seven Steps to the Services Acquisition Process is specific to market research, in reality, market research is being conducted from step 1 through step 5. When the government engages industry in the formation of its requirement, it will better align with commercially available products and services while also increasing competition during the procurement.
The DEVELOP phase is where the rubber meets the road. The government has collected a plethora of information during the PLAN phase, and it is now time to collate it into a coherent requirement and solicitation. This is where the government must lay out clearly what it needs, why it needs it, and how they intend to procure it. If done correctly, the information the government gleans from industry will serve as a strong foundation for their request for proposals (RFP) and source selection.
Remember, while there are multiple processes by which the government procures goods and services, the Seven Steps to the Service Acquisition Process is used in these blog entries because of its broad applicability. In the final phase, EXECUTE, the government finds itself sequestered in source selection mode. The RFP will be issued, presumably incorporating as much of industry’s feedback and input as is practicable, thus allowing for ample competitive opportunities. This sequestration does not mean that the government is not communicating, however. As a reminder, here are the phases and steps of the Seven Steps to the Acquisition Process:
The communications will be more formal because the government is held to a high standard when conducting source selections. The government must not provide one vendor an unfair competitive advantage. Once an RFP is issued, the government will typically take great care to ensure all interested parties have equal access to the information used in the government’s requirements.
Some of the communications seen during this time include:
A synopsis is essentially a warning to prospective offerors that the government is about to issue an RFP imminently. FAR 5.203 mandates a minimum of a 15-day notice before issuing an RFP. Of course, there are exceptions to this, which can be found at FAR 5.202. What this means to industry is “get read, here it comes!” The government will sometimes put the synopsis out as the RFP is going through internal reviews so that when the approval to issue is granted, they can act on it quickly. Because of this, the amount of time between synopsis and RFP may be more than 15 days. However, the synopsis represents a somewhat high confidence that the RFP will make it through the approval process and get issued in a matter of weeks as opposed to months.
Final RFP Release –
Releasing the final RFP is just as it sounds, the final release of the RFP documents represents the point in which offerors need to pay close attention to ALL instructions. If a DRAFT RFP was issued, take particular note where differences exist. There may be clues there on what’s important, or unimportant, to the government. More importantly, if proposal language was started based on draft RFP language, updates must be made that align with the final RFP. Any failure to do so may render the proposal unacceptable for award. Do not take lightly any of the proposal instructions. While the government is a beneficiary of competition, it is much easier for them to document a failure to comply with instructions than to document a judgment call in a trade-off scenario. Don’t make their job easy in this respect.
Questions and Answers –
Most RFPs will allow for potential offerors to submit questions about the RFP requirements. This allows for clarity and understanding when developing the proposals. Those who submit questions must understand that any question asked will be answered, and those answers will be published for all to see. This goes to the government’s intention of ensuring a fair playing field and no one party having information that no one else does. When developing questions, be sure to strategize around this eventuality.
This topic could be a blog post on its own. Generally, discussions are the point where the government has conducted initial proposal evaluations and has found weaknesses or deficiencies (or both) that need to be addressed before an award can be made. FAR 15.306 discusses “exchanges with offerors,” and there are numerous articles and training available just on this topic. A great resource describing discussions can be found HERE. The critical take away here is that you must take care of what is being communicated and carefully strategize your response and proposal revisions when you find yourself in discussions with the government. It is getting down to crunch time at this point!
Award Decision –
The award decision will be communicated in a few ways depending on the target audience. If the award amount requires it, there will be a pre-notice sent to Congress. Once the appropriate internal communication is accomplished in accordance with policy, only then will offerors begin to receive notification of the source selection outcome. The contracting officer has some latitude on what order he or she wishes to communicate the results. Letters outlining required information in the unsuccessful offeror letters are drafted, reviewed, and signed and typically get sent out electronically all at the same time. The successful offeror letter will also go out at this time. For more substantial, more complex proposal efforts, the government may also take the additional step to call offerors’ representatives to communicate in person the source selection results.
This three-part series hardly scratches the surface of government communications. Vendors working with the government should be careful to capture as much information they can coming out of the government. Being the vast bureaucracy that it is, the right and left hands don’t always speak with one voice. If…scratch that…when you need help deciphering the government’s messaging, give FP&C a call. We can help you through the fog.