This month, we are breaking down a protest filed by Centerra Group LLC. Centerra, the incumbent contractor, filed a protest in response to their loss of a base operations support services contract issued by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command and awarded to Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. (KBR). Centerra had three arguments against this decision, but one in particular, stood out to us. They argued that the Navy should have awarded the Centerra proposal additional strengths, and as a result it should have received a higher technical rating.
Proposal strengths – formulated by the capture team, sought after by reviewers, and shaped by proposal writers. They are the key element in helping source selection committees quantify and qualify the competition. Commonly, we see high evaluation ratings (such as an Excellent or Outstanding adjectival rating, or a Blue or Green color rating) defined as having numerous strengths among other criteria such as understanding the requirements, no significant weaknesses, or having no significant risks. While strengths are just one piece of the evaluation criteria, they are critical to elevating your bid, and it is important to know how the Government, and specifically their evaluation team, defines them.
GAO’s Response to Centerra’s Protest
GAO’s response to Centerra’s protest offers the key ingredient to creating proposal strengths. Centerra, the incumbent, proposed a transition period shorter than the required 60 days. They argued that this feature of their transition approach exceeded the proposal requirements and was valuable to the Navy “because it would reduce disruption and would decrease the time that the agency would need to pay both the incoming and outgoing personnel.” In response, the Contracting Officer (CO) stated that a shorter transition period was not of value. The CO was willing to provide for, and pay for, a 60-day transition period to ensure sufficient time for the contractor to prepare for the contract. And while there may be associated costs savings, transition times were not separately priced. Thus, these potential costs savings were not visible.
In reviewing Centerra’s argument, GAO referenced the protest of Avon Protection Systems B-411569.2. It was during this decision that GAO defined a proposal strength. GAO noted that an agency does not need to award a strength to a proposed feature “unless it also concluded that these features would be advantageous to the government.” While Centerra offered a feature of their approach that exceeded the requirements, the Navy did not feel that this was advantageous. GAO affirms that the Navy’s evaluation of Centerra’s transition approach was reasonable and agreed that, absent a clear advantage, this approach did not warrant the assignment of a strength.
Knowing Your Customer is Key
The message from this protest is critical: You must know your customer. Situational awareness and customer knowledge are imperative. Work with your capture team to understand your customer, what they need, and what will truly benefit them. Strengths are only assigned when a feature of your approach shows a direct benefit that is advantageous to your customer. So, avoid offering something that your customer does not find advantageous.
Make Your Strengths Clear to Evaluators
If you find yourself struggling to define your company’s strengths, we offer a method to define the strengths of your approach that leverages unique features and associated benefits. And when you define those strengths, don’t hide them. Clearly demonstrate the benefit of your feature and define the advantage to the evaluator. There is nothing wrong with a sentence that starts “This is a strength because…” We encourage you to follow this method to ensure your next proposal is sprinkled with strengths that will result in a win.