Responding to agency Requests for Proposals (RFP) is an exercise in playing follow-the-leader.  Contractors should take care to :

  • Read the RFP
  • Understand the information requested by the agency; and
  • Provide that information in a clear and concise manner.

The common thread for RFPs across all procurement types is to deliver the exact information requested by the agency – and in exact format requested.

Proposal content forms a common basis for bid protests.  Here is the typical scenario:  The contractor argues that the agency overlooked key information in its proposal.  The agency, on the other hand, contends that the contractor did not provide the information (or did not provide it in the manner requested).

The “Key” Experience or Key Personnel Factor (common in many Federal RFPs) offers a great discussion point.  You know that your team meets the RFP requirements – but does that fact shine through in your company’s proposal?

Take a recent Food and Drug Administration solicitation for IT services.  The RFP required bidders to include an Enterprise Solutions Architect as a “Key Person.”  In addition to the title, the bidder needed to show that the Architect has 10 years of experience working with certain software platforms.

In a protest at the GAO, a bidder argued that the agency incorrectly rejected its proposal as technically unacceptable because it did not include an Architect with the required qualifications/experience.  The bidder maintained that its Architect had over 20 years of relevant experience – more than double the RFP requirement.

The agency responded that it reviewed the bidder’s proposal – but was unable to conclude that the Architect had the required experience.  The RFP asked bidders to provide a “crosswalk” between the Architect’s experience and the RFP requirements.

Rather than provide such a crosswalk, the agency stated that the protester’s proposal provided only the Architect’s work history with overlapping dates.  When the agency sought to compute the total years of experience, it eliminated periods of overlap.  As a result, the agency found only 8.25 years – short of the RFP requirement.

On review, GAO found the agency’s evaluation was reasonable.

The GAO’s decision has nothing to do with the proposed Architect’s actual experience.  Instead, the key is how the bidder conveyed that experience in its proposal.  Because the proposal did not track the RFP requirements, GAO found there was no reason to overrule the agency’s award decision.

The takeaway for contractors is one of form and substance – both matter for proposals.  In order to prevail on a protest, contractors need to show that they used the proper form before the GAO or COFC will consider the substance.

Nick Solosky is a Partner in Fox Rothschild’s Government Contracts Practice Group.  You can reach Nick directly at or 202-696-1460.