By Chris O’Donnell, April 8, 2019.

It is never fun to lose a competition for a contract or grant after you’ve spent so much time, effort and cost on the bidding process. Adding to the misery is receiving limited information from the debrief. On the other hand, even if you win the award, what have you learned from the process?  You might think you’re the best, but the proposal may just have been better than the other proposals. Even as the awardee, you should request a debrief to determine what more could be done to earn the maximum points. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) doesn’t restrict the awardee from requesting a debrief.

Debriefings are essential, win or lose, you need to know how to make them more beneficial, to increase your success for future awards? Simply, it is to learn the basis for the government’s selection decision and award. It should also be an opportunity to make the offer more responsive to the government’s requirements. What was successful and well-received – and what was not?  You can use the debrief to determine if there were any errors made in the evaluation process. If nothing else, a debrief could be the first opportunity to meet the technical evaluators.

A debrief for a contract is required under FAR Part 15 competitive acquisitions/proposals and FAR 16.505, IDIQ orders exceeding $5.5 million. Contract debriefings are not required for FAR Part 14 sealed bids, FAR Part 8 Federal Supply Schedules or Simplified Acquisitions FAR Part 13.

Grant debriefs known as a “Requests for Additional Information” are provided in accordance with the Automated Directives System 303.3.7.2. Unlike contracts, a debrief from an Agreement Officer (AO) may be provided at his/her discretion. If given, a response may be either oral or in writing and should be limited to information useful to the applicant in preparing future applications.

There are well-defined procedures for debriefs. Under FAR 15.505 the agency is required to notify in writing each offeror either not making the competitive range, within three days, or whose proposal was in the competitive range but not selected for award. Post-award notices must include the name and address of the awardee, the number of offerors solicited, the number of proposals submitted, either the total contract price or unit prices of each award, and reason(s) the offeror’s proposal was not accepted, unless the price information readily reveals the reason. (see FAR 15.503(b)(1)). As agencies may not always meet deadlines for debriefs, monitor FBO.gov and other public sites for award announcements and follow-up with the government to receive a timely debrief.

For both pre- and post-award debriefings, the offeror must submit a written request within three calendar days after receipt of the notice of exclusion from the competitive range or notification of contract award. For a grant the applicant must submit a written request for additional information to the AO within 10 working days after the applicant receives notice that USAID will not fund its application.

Debriefings may be done orally, in writing, or by any other method acceptable to the Contracting Officer. The cognizant technical office may respond orally or in writing to a request for additional information for a grant debrief, with the AO either being present at and leading any meeting or approving any written communication.

USAID Contracting Officers (COs) generally prefer providing a written debrief. If the debrief  leaves questions, offerors may consider an approach permitted by the FAR to ask for reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed.

For a pre-award debrief, the CO is to make every effort to debrief the unsuccessful offerors as soon as practicable but may refuse the request for compelling reasons if not in the best interests of the Government. For a post-award debrief, the debrief should occur within five days after receipt of the written request. For grants, the technical office should respond within 30 days after consultation with the AO or inform the applicant that more time is necessary.

For the debrief have at least two people present to include the proposal business manager most familiar with the proposal. Make sure representatives are prepared for the debrief by reviewing the solicitation, selection criteria, proposal and agency notification. Prepare an illustrative list of questions (or checklist) for the debrief addressing each evaluation factor:

  • Was the proposal responsive to the solicitation? What was overlooked?
  • Did the proposal comply with all the requirements in the solicitation? What was missed?
  • Was the approach to the project adequate? How can it be improved?
  • Was the approach to managing the project adequate? How can it be improved?
  • Did the proposed staff have the requisite technical expertise, project management capability and experience? What was lacking?
  • Was the monitoring and evaluation plan adequate? How can it be more responsive?
  • Was the proposal organization easy to follow/evaluate?
  • Were any of the budgeted costs too high?

What is the Government required to discuss at a pre-award debrief?  According to FAR 15.505(e), at a minimum, the debriefing shall include:

  • The agency’s evaluation of significant elements in the offeror’s proposal;
  • A summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competitive range; and
  • Reasonable responses to relevant questions about the source selection process.

At this early stage of the competition, the debriefing shall not disclose: the number of offerors and their identity, the content of other offeror’s proposals, the evaluation or ranking of other offerors and any information exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

What must be provided in a post-award debriefing:

  • USAID’s evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the proposal;
  • The overall evaluated cost or price, and technical rating, of the successful offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror;
  • The overall ranking of all offerors;
  • Summary of the rationale for award; and
  • Reasonable responses to relevant questions about the source selection process.

How should representatives conduct themselves during the debriefing. Take the debrief serious: listen and let the government representatives speak and explain; ask relevant questions; take good notes; and, above all, request advice on how to improve the proposal. Don’t leave the debriefing without thanking the government representatives for their time and consideration. Remember, the government is probably evaluating, whether it wants to work with your organization in the future.

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