A 360 degree view of wired RFPs

govcon competitive advantageProposal professionals use the term wired to refer to a request for proposal (RFP) they believe is rigged to ensure one company wins. Customers rig an RFP by using specific requirements and evaluation criteria that favor one company versus the competition. Although there are many ways to wire an RFP, here are 10 common methods:

  1. Customers select an acquisition vehicle that severely limits the competitive field
  2. Resumes are required for all or most positions, even non-management positions
  3. Resume requirements reflect obscure or hard-to-find skills, education, or certifications
  4. Evaluation criteria (usually >60%) is weighted in favor of resumes and past performance
  5. Threshold for using a past performance reference limits the competition
  6. Technical requirements are so specific only an incumbent could respond to them
  7. Customer’s objectives and technical requirements are so vague they are hard to interpret
  8. RFP asks the offeror to respond to multiple sample task orders that are specific
  9. Turnaround time for the proposal is short—usually <10 days for a large proposal effort
  10. Customer asks for oral presentations without discussions

The term wired is also subjective depending on your role. If you are a government program manager, a wired RFP means your valued incumbent is more likely to win and mitigate potential transition risks and disruption to ongoing operations.

If you are the incumbent capture manager, wired means you have influenced the RFP to use specific requirements and evaluation criteria that favor your company. By limiting the competition, you also protect your profit from competitors who can offer a better value at a lower price. However, if you go too far to influence the development of a highly restrictive RFP, your efforts may backfire.

If you are a challenger, a wired RFP will trigger one of multiple actions—a quick no-bid decision, the commitment of bid and proposal (B&P) funds to a losing battle, the generation of numerous questions to level the playing field, or the decision to fight the overly restrictive language through communications with the contracting officer or even a pre-award protest.

If you are the contracting officer, the incumbent contractor, challengers, and government program manager probably just gave you a major headache as they vie to protect their interests. The contracting officer’s workload also increases significantly as they respond to complaints, an increased number of questions, amendments to clarify requirements, potential protests, and undesirable attention from oversight organizations like the Government Accountability Office (GAO). If you are a source selection authority official, you are left to rationalize the award and why it is in the government’s best interests.

In summary, the undesirable fallout from wired RFPs can be mitigated through:

  • Pre-RFP opportunities to meet with government program managers
  • Sponsoring of industry days
  • Use of requests for information (RFIs) to identify the competitive field
  • Clear requirements
  • Sufficient time for questions and answers (Q&As) and proposal preparation

by Brenda Crist, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

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Lohfeld Consulting