Debriefings and Protests in Governement Proposals

In this installment we discuss the rules regarding debriefings and protests using the federal acquisition regulations as a model. State and local debriefing and protest regulations are similar although in many cases less formal than the federal regulations.

Debriefing and Protest Regulations

Debriefing and protest regulations are presented in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 15.5 Preaward, Award, and Postaward Notifications, Protests, and Mistakes.

The basic rules as outlined in the FAR are as follows:

Offerors are notified promptly (promptly is not defined in FAR) when their proposals are no longer being considered. The notice is in writing and is supposed to state the basis for the determination and that a proposal revision will not be considered. Rejected offerors may request a debriefing. The request for a debriefing must be made within 3 days of receipt of the notice. Offerors may request that the debriefing be held after award in order to obtain more information concerning the evaluation.

Preaward debriefings do not disclose:

  • The number of offerors.
  • The identity of other offerors.
  • The content of other offerors' proposals.
  • The ranking of other offerors.
  • The evaluation of other offerors.
Within 3 days after a contract award, all offerors are notified of the award and they may request a debriefing after award no later than 3 days after receiving the notice.

Award notices will include:

  • The number of offerors solicited.
  • The number of proposals received.
  • The name and address of each offeror receiving an award.
  • The items, quantities, and any stated unit prices of each award.
  • The reason(s) the offeror's proposal was not accepted.
Protests against an award can be made pre or post award. See Federal Acquisition Regulation, Part 33, Protests, Disputes, and Appeals.

Taking Part in a Formal or Informal Debriefing

Although you might feel a bit angry, suck it up, tough it out and take part in the debriefing in a professional and courteous manner. Nothing will be gained from a controversial stance, except the possibility of not doing business with the agency again. Let the CO do the talking first and then ask any questions that may result from his/her presentation.

In a preaward debriefing you are entitled to the following information, at a minimum:

  • The agency's evaluation of significant elements in the offeror's proposal.

  • A summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competition.

  • Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed in the process of eliminating the offeror from the competition.
The following information is not disclosed in a preaward debriefing:
  • The number of offerors.
  • The identity of other offerors.
  • The content of other offerors' proposals.
  • The ranking of other offerors.
  • The evaluation of other offerors.
In a postaward debriefing you are entitled to the following information, at a minimum:
  • The Government's evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror's proposal.

  • The overall evaluated cost or price (including unit prices) and technical rating of the successful offeror and the debriefed offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror. (Notice it says rating, not ratings.)

  • The overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection.

  • A summary of the rationale for award.

  • For acquisitions of commercial items, the make and model of the item to be delivered by the successful offeror.

  • Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed.

  • Post award debriefing shall not include point-by-point comparisons of the debriefed offeror's proposal with those of other offerors.
Some questions you should ask:
  • The total score received by the winner if it was not provided.

  • The names, titles and responsibilities of the individuals who made the final award decision.

  • The specifics of the evaluations of your company for each technical evaluation factor in the solicitation. This should include the strengths and weaknesses for each factor for your company and the rational for the scores given. Seeing scores by evaluator is the best way to determine what really happened in the evaluation.

  • The specifics of the cost and price evaluation of the winner and your company. Ask if the government adjusted the cost and price of the winner or your company for any reason.

Giving information beyond the minimum is at the discretion of the CO, but, if you don't ask, the CO will almost certainly not provide the information beyond the minimum.

Debriefings and Protests from a Management and Sales Prospective

Always request a postaward debriefing unless you are considering protesting before award. The primary value of a debriefing is to learn from mistakes, get better, etc., and a postaward debriefing will often provide you with critical information in that regard.

Communicate by telephone with the CO concerning debriefing and protests; it's the CO's job to communicate openly with you about these two issues. Often, formal debriefings and protests can be avoided through telephone communications at considerable savings to you and the government. Also, this type of communication can help establish a trust relationship between you and the CO, particularly if you are reasonable and willing to save the CO time by avoiding a formal debriefing.

Have a formal debriefing unless the reasons for losing are apparent -- e.g., your price was clearly out of line, or the contracting officer has told you enough over the telephone to rule out a formal debriefing.

In some cases, the REAL reasons for your losing will come out in a debriefing. It's important to learn why you lost and then use that information to improve your competitiveness or to make a no bid decision in the future.

Do not protest except in special circumstances -- e.g., the violation of procurement regulations was so blatant that you and your lawyer agree that you have a substantial probability of winning. This rule applies particularly to small businesses with limited legal budgets. Protests are very expensive, often counterproductive, always emotionally draining. And worse: about 90% lose. Do your best to look forward, not backward.


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