Lessons Learned in Strength-Based Winning® from GAO’s Protest Docket

One of the best sources to learn about how the government grades best value competitions is the General Accountability Office (GAO) Protest Docket. The Docket explains the proposal requirements, how the government graded the proposal, and provides their justification for the score.

The five cases presented below from GAO’s November Protest Docket provide lessons we can use to improve proposals. We deleted references to the solicitation name, protester, and winners(s) to focus on key messages from GAO’s findings.

Agency: Defense Mission Agency (MDA)

The Score: The protester’s proposal had 4 strengths, 2 weaknesses, 5 significant weaknesses, and 3 deficiencies. According to the government, the proposal did not demonstrate technical knowledge in multiple areas that are important to the MDA mission.

The Issue: With 3 deficiencies the government stated that the proposal was “unawardable” due to the unacceptable rating under a key mission capability factor. The Source Selection Authority (SSA) found that there was no advantage to including the proposal in the competitive range because it contained multiple deficiencies and had an unacceptable technical and technical risk rating.

The Lesson Learned: Conduct iterative reviews of the technical solution to verify compliance, responsiveness, and customer focus. Review the proposal like a government evaluator for strengths, weaknesses, significant weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks across all evaluated criteria. Conduct the reviews before and after the request for proposal release. Finalize all corrective actions before submitting the proposal.

Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

The Score: The protester’s proposal had 1 significant strength and 5 strengths. The winning proposal had 3 significant strengths and 3 strengths. The winner’s price was slightly higher than that of the protester

The Issue: The winner received a significant strength for its very detailed approach. The Source Selection Authority (SSA) considered this a key difference in the proposals and determined that the winner’s approach to project management presented additional benefits to the government and warranted the payment of a price premium.

The Lesson Learned: Providing a clear and detailed description of how you will perform the work and what tools you will use to perform the work improves the government’s comprehension of your approach. These details will give the government the information they need to increase your score.

Agency: U.S. Army

The Score: The government rated the proposals’ staffing and transition plans. The government scored the transition plans equally. The government gave the winner’s staffing plan 4 strengths, and the protester’s staffing plan 3 strengths and 1 weakness. The price differential was less than 1%.

The Issue: The government found the protester lacked an identified bench of candidates. However, the winner proposed to maintain a qualified bench of candidates over the task order life, including candidates that would possess counterintelligence polygraph security clearances.

The Lesson Learned: Competitions can be close. So, maximize your score across all evaluated criteria.

As soon as you produce a compliant outline, conduct a brainstorming session regarding how you can maximize your score across each evaluated criterion. Aim for multiple strengths for each evaluated criterion.

Agency: Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

The Score: Both the winner and the protester received satisfactory ratings across all evaluated criteria. The winner’s price was 2% lower than the protester’s price. The Source Selection Evaluation Board (SSEB) conducted a trade-off analysis and found that the winner’s references carried less risk than the protester’s references.

The Issue: The government indicated that the protester did not substantiate all past performance sub-criterion requirements. The winner demonstrated relevant experience performing all the 18 sub‑criteria areas, while the protester’s proposal only demonstrated relevant experience performing 15 of the sub-criteria areas. Additionally, the SSEB found that the strengths assigned to the protester’s experience references did not outweigh the risk created by the protester not demonstrating experience in all of the sub‑criteria areas.

The Lesson Learned: Sometimes it is challenging to score highly across all requirements in a past performance section. Therefore, apply any relevant information available to increase your score and capitalize on your strengths—or consider selecting another past performance reference that provides more coverage.

Agency: U.S. Air Force (USAF)

The Score: Of the 14 offerors who submitted proposals, the USAF rated 7 as outstanding and 7 as good. The protester was rated as number 14 on the leaderboard and received the “good” rating. The government assigned each company an adjectival rating based on its assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and deficiencies.

The Issue: One of the primary reasons the protester received the lowest ranking was a weakness in its technical proposal. The government explained that the proposal increased the risk of unsuccessful performance because it only focused its approach on one element in the technical environment rather than the larger enterprise.

The Lesson Learned: Read the instructions carefully. Your responsibility is to clearly convey the required information and provide solutions that exceed the government’s requirements. If you cannot cover all the requirements, consider getting a subcontractor or partner.

New Lessons Learned blog each month

Lohfeld Consulting Group will follow the GAO Protest Docket for the next 6 months, so look for a new blog on the first week of each month.

By Brenda Crist, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals.
As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $170B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at www.lohfeldconsulting.com and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

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