Every government contractor that begins performance on a new engagement has the same basic goal – superior performance that bolsters the company’s bottom line and garners excellent past performance ratings from the agency.

But, when the contract ends, will your company’s status as a successful incumbent contractor increase the odds of winning future follow-on work from the agency?  While it never hurts to have exemplary past performance, GAO recently cautioned that nothing is guaranteed.

The protest in question (filed by the incumbent contractor) challenged the agency’s best value award decision on a contract to provide security services at a nuclear facility.  Specifically, the contractor argued that the agency’s evaluation of its technical proposal and staffing approach were unreasonable (and, in fact, “inconceivable”).

The agency rated these factors as merely “Good.”  However, based on its past performance as the incumbent, the contractor maintained it deserved “Excellent” ratings.  GAO disagreed, holding that the contractor’s protest lacked merit and was based on a selective reading of the RFP and the agency’s evaluation record.

GAO’s decision provides incumbent contractors with a clear path forward when approaching a proposal for follow-on work.  In a nutshell, highlight your outstanding past performance, but don’t rest on your laurels.  The agency will approach evaluations for the new award with a clean slate, and so should your business.

This lesson learned is particularly significant with respect to a best value competition.  As I’ve discussed previously, contractors approaching a best value procurements have to strike a balance between technical superiority and price.  Here, the contractor appears to have hung its hat too much on the technical side (and, even more narrowly, on its past performance as the incumbent) and, as a result, lost out on the contract.