Federal Government contracting is a billion-dollar business annually. FY 2022 should end up around $625B in total, with about $350B for DoD and $275B for Civilian (note – this figure represents discretionary Federal contract spending only). A majority of that revenue is generated through competitive means – individual contracts, grants, multi-award IDIQ task orders, socio-economic set-aside task orders, delivery orders, and modifications to existing contracts. For years, most of these competitions required written responses and awards were based on an evaluation of those responses, in conjunction with a price tradeoff. This evaluation method relied heavily on a review of a proposal’s compliance with written instructions and requirements.
The challenge that the government faced is that they could be evaluating the work of a greatly talented proposal team, but not the work of a highly skilled execution team. Over the past two decades, Red Team has seen some parts of the Government shift to more innovative proposal evaluation methods that still stay within the rules of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR). Let’s discuss what this means for Government contractors.
Proposal evaluations are governed by the FAR, specifically part 15.305. It states that “Proposal evaluation is an assessment of the proposal and the offeror’s ability to perform the prospective contract successfully.” Relative strengths, deficiencies, weaknesses, and risks need to be documented in the following five areas: cost/price, past performance, technical, cost info, and small business subcontracting.
To meet this need, contracting officers have traditionally used these factors to outline the required written responses from vendors with specific requirements and associated evaluation criteria. We have seen this evolve over time with Requests for Proposals (RFPs) still evaluating all five of these criteria, but not only (or in some cases not at all) in a written format. Recent innovations include oral proposals/presentations, technical challenges, and point-based evaluations.
Oral presentations and evaluations are not new to Government procurement. In years past, all the FAR-required evaluation information was provided in a written proposal, and an oral presentation was included as a supplement to the main proposal evaluation. More recently, some Government agencies are using an oral presentation of the technical solution as the primary means of technical evaluation. Technical oral presentations require proposal teams to identify, hire (if needed), and coach the proposed key personnel who will actually perform the work – you are not just submitting resumes. Technical oral presentations demand strict compliance to presentation requirements, including presentation structure, because the presentation is your proposal.
Red Team’s Advice
One key to success is to use a professional orals coach to guide your team to stick to what is being evaluated and stay on script. Presenters also need to be presentable, approachable, and likeable. Innovation can be a strong differentiator if presented correctly and in a compliant manner but avoid presenting anything that is non-compliant.
Some Government agencies are starting to use a style of technical presentation that goes further than traditional oral presentations. The solicitation may require that the technical solution be presented via technical exercises or challenges. This allows Government evaluators to watch your team of technical professionals at work trying to solve a problem. Technical challenges are mostly used for software and web development and have so far mostly been used for task orders and single award contracts. There have also been instances where the mechanism has been used for MAC IDIQs, such as T4NG On-Ramp. In a technical challenge, the team is given a problem statement in a controlled and overseen environment and given a specific amount of time to come up with a solution. These challenges require a disciplined team of technically proficient professionals who understand that they are being evaluated for everything they say and do during the challenge. The team needs to be professional and optimistic towards problem solving; saying that something is “impossible” is not advisable.
Red Team’s Advice
We recommend that the team practice together on sample challenges for at least a month before the Government challenge event to understand team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and best roles.
For large IDIQs, MACs, and GWACs, point-based RFPs are becoming common. GSA has taken their OASIS, Alliant, Polaris, and 8a STARS programs to point scoring acquisitions. While the Government believes that point-scoring acquisitions create a more streamlined evaluation process, the reality is that it creates new and different challenges.
Red Team’s Advice
We have written extensively on this type of competition and what contractors need to do to prepare for these proposal efforts.
Government acquisition continues to evolve. The newer techniques require contractors to engage additional skillsets and personnel beyond those of a traditional proposal shop – proposal manager, technical writers, pricing, coordinators, and graphics. These skillsets are still needed, but other skillsets, including orals coaches and presentation “book bosses” are essential. The use of these techniques is likely to continue to expand, since they may create Government efficiencies in evaluation, and they also allow the Government to evaluate the people they will be working with under contract. As evaluations evolve, our industry must evolve with it.