Answer the question that’s asked

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We always keep an eye on the US Government Accountability Office website (www.gao.gov/) as it offers up, through its publication of decisions regarding protests made by losing bidders, a stream of examples of common mistakes made by bidders (including for our purposes incumbents). Whilst some examples are based on the specifics of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, most we find are mistakes general to bidding (or, again for our purposes, rebidding/ recompetes where the protest is made by a losing incumbent). We have already published two papers showing examples of some of the common mistakes and lessons to be learned, both of which you can access here: Lessons from Lost Rebids and More Lessons from Lost Rebids

Below is a more recent example illustrating a common, but often repeated, mistake – one we often see incumbents make across different countries, sectors and customers. Many of those making these mistakes are great bidding businesses (and often usually good rebidders). For us this just shows that even if you think you understand the principles, you can always forget them when it comes to your own specific rebid.

Company: Charles F Day & Associates LLC
GAO Reference: B-411164
Date: 2nd June 2015

Charles F Day & Associates LLC (CFDA) protested their loss of a field support training services contract where they were incumbent, to the winner LSGS.

One basis of CFDA’s protest was that they had received an unfairly low score for a section of the bid regarding their recruiting and hiring of staff.

The customer had specified that answers to this section should give details of bidders’ proposed recruiting and hiring processes. They had also warned that a technical approach relying only or primarily on retaining incumbent personnel would not be an adequate technical approach nor an adequate description of the Offeror’s capabilities.

In their criticism of CFDA’s bid, the customer had stated “The proposal provides information about retaining current staff, as well as the annual turnover rate for employees. However the proposal does not provide processes to recruit or hire new employees.”

GAO rejected CDFA’s protest, saying:
“….CDFA primarily asserts that, because it is the incumbent and it’s proposal demonstrated that “we possess the people”, any further discussion of the recruiting and hiring process that CDFA would employ during the 5 year performance period was unnecessary… We disagree. Where, as here, the solicitation expressly warned that reliance on retention of incumbent personnel was inadequate, CDFA’s discussion of its currently-employed personnel failed to meet the solicitation’s requirement to prospectively address its hiring and recruiting activities.”
And:
“…we find nothing unreasonable in the agency’s assignment of a weakness to CDFA’s proposal for failing to address the recruiting and hiring activities that it would employ throughout the life of the contract.”

The protest was denied

Rebid Lessons

The first and obvious lesson from this example (and a lesson that is repeated time and again in GAO protests as well as other lost rebids), is that incumbents should always read the question and answer it as the customer specifies. Of course this applies to all bidders. But there can be an assumption by incumbents that either the customer already knows what the incumbent is doing, so it doesn’t need repeating in the bid (wrong), or that saying what is already being done is sufficient to answer a question more focused on the future (also wrong).

We can only guess, but perhaps CDFA saw the fact they had the workforce already in place as a strength. Perhaps they saw the question as focusing on the competitor’s relative weakness of needing to hire and recruit a new team. But it seems the customer (and / or the GAO) was also looking ahead, and saw that inevitably CDFA would need to recruit, even if only to cover churn in their existing team, over the next contract period – and they wanted to know the processes to be used for this. Perhaps CDFA should have made more of their strength, illustrating the benefits they had with an existing team for the transition and early stages of the contract, but gone on to clearly show their recruiting and hiring processes. Perhaps using their existing staff as evidence of how these processes really work. And showing how they would put these processes to effect for the customer’s benefit over the coming contract period.

The second lesson we take from this is linked to the above. It would appear from CDFA’s apparent answer regarding their existing team that they were focused on the present, not on the future. As the comments from the example above by the customer and GAO hint at, a lot can change over a 5 year contract, and the customer knows this. Acknowledging this, showing how you have anticipated it with improvements and innovation in your new solution, but also showing how you would improve and be flexible to further, perhaps unknowable changes over the next 5 years (ideally evidencing your ability and willingness to do so from examples taken from the existing contract), will give your customer assurance you aren’t just setting in stone what the existing service and solution is. ‘More of the same’ is not what the customer wants, and it’s not what your competitors will offer. And usually it is not what will win you the rebid.

 

See how we can help you avoid the traps other incumbents fall into in their submissions here