A response to an RFP is the government contractor’s chance to put its best foot forward and stand out from the crowd. Particularly when it comes to best value procurements, this is your chance to tell the contracting officer that your company does it best (whatever it is).
But, a recent bid protest decision reminds us that contractors must carefully walk the line between well-deserved boasting and playing make-believe.
The protest concerns a U.S. Department of the Navy IDIQ contract. The RFP required contractors to submit detailed information documenting their relevant depth and breadth of experience on similar contracts. In other words, the agency wanted the ultimate awardee to prove it has the chops to do the work required under the contract.
The agency rejected one contractor’s proposal as technically unacceptable because it lacked specific details concerning prior projects. Instead, the contractor submitted only general information about its past work – and instead focused on hypothesizing about the stellar work that it could perform, if given the opportunity.
On review, the Court of Federal Claims sided with the Navy. It is reasonable, the Court concluded, for an agency to require contractors to submit satisfactory evidence of qualifying past performance experience. The contractor’s decision to submit general (not specific) information concerning its prior contract performance and focus on hypothetical statements of future potential did not meet the RFP’s requirements.
For contractors – and especially greener contractors – the Court’s decision presents and chicken-and-egg scenario. It is difficult to win a contract award including a past performance element when your firm has limited experience. But how can you get the experience without the award?
Two thoughts: First, as this case demonstrates, this is one area where you can’t “fake it till you make it.” Focus on actual, supportable experience. Second, if your firm’s past performance is really holding you back, consider teaming options for situations where the RFP allows you to lean on the past performance experience of a partner or subcontractor.