At Red Team Consulting, we see hundreds of RFPs every year. We review solicitations across the Department of Defense and from nearly every single Civilian Department. These include standalone single-award contracts that range in size from $5M to over $500M, to multiple-award IDIQ contracts valued at over $20B. Most of these RFPs are very similar in how they are structured, organized, and evaluated. Because FAR guidelines prescribe what the government requests, essentially all RFPs ask for the same information. The challenge is not what the government asks for; it is matching their expectation for what they will receive with how industry interprets their instructions.
In Part 1 of this article series, I will propose a few different, simple, and effective ways the government could make changes, in order to receive more consistent proposals from bidders. Typically, RFP instructions are written in paragraph format, which invariably leaves room for interpretation on how to properly structure the response. Industry responds with proposals that have inconsistent formats, even using differing headings and subheadings for each factor and subfactor. If the government received proposals that were consistently structured, the evaluation process would hopefully become more streamlined. Here are three ways the government could improve their chances for receiving consistent information from bidders.
1. Define the structure of the proposal response more clearly in Section L.
The government could do this by providing headings and subheadings in the instructions. Bidders would know the exact format and structure for their proposal response, and would be able to provide the information in a consistent order. It would also eliminate extraneous information that the government is not looking for. It would allow government agencies to keep proposal responses consistent.
2. Provide an outline as an attachment in Section J.
In this case, the government can leave Section L as is. Since many Section L requirements are listed in paragraph format, government agencies could include a high-level draft of the outline in Section J to provide companies with the actual structure of their response.
3. Provide a detailed form for bidders to complete.
Form-based RFPs exist today where companies are required to fill in text boxes that address each specific factor or subfactor. These forms can be very helpful because they list the exact requirements for the data that needs to be collected. They also provide automatic word count limitations, so bidders wouldn’t run the risk of exceeding the content requirements. We often find these form-based RFPs with SF-330’s and specific RFPs like GSA Alliant and GSA OASIS.
With every approach, there will be advantages and disadvantages. The key here is to understand which approach will work best for the types of contracts you will compete. I recommend government start small and use a few smaller contracts to prototype these approaches. With practice, government agencies can start applying these ideas across different types of contracts in the hopes that they receive more uniformly organized proposal responses.
For more thoughts on how to improve the acquisition process, take a look at Part 2 of this series, where I address one of the biggest challenges that takes place in government source selections – the evaluation and subjective tradeoff decisions on price.