Contract protests are on the rise—with sustained protests more than doubling over the past 5 years. From anecdotal evidence, it appears that over the past 1-2 years, they have gone up even more. Among the agencies we meet with, we are hearing stories of up to half of acquisitions being protested when the dollar amounts are high and especially in IT. It seems what was once taboo is now just a normal cost of doing business.
If this is the new normal in government acquisitions, then agencies would be wise to plan for this also. I propose that you build ‘protest planning’ into your evaluations as well.
What does this look like?
It starts at the very beginning—at the solicitation planning phase. At this point, you must do your due diligence in market research and ensure that you are giving all firms a fair shot—you can’t short cut this phase as it will come back to haunt you.
Next, your SOW and evaluation criteria must be sound, and there needs to be a clear link between what you are buying and the way in which you are evaluating it. Also, you want to avoid writing the spec to unfairly limit competition. In this highly competitive marketplace, firms can spot this from a mile away.
Furthermore, every step your evaluation panel takes must be 100% compliant with regulations: 1) your evaluators must clearly understand and agree to confidentiality and evaluation instructions, 2) their agreement must be completed and signed and before they ever see a proposal (and you must be able to document this), 3) you must ensure that all evaluators conduct their evaluations independently and before they meet with the rest of the panel (you do not want evaluators coming to the Technical Evaluation Panel meeting with blank evaluation reports), and 4) you have to be able to clearly demonstrate how you came to your selection, and back this up through your evaluation reports.
Finally, if you do have a protest, you need to be able to easily provide complete information to the inspector/auditor so that it can be resolved as quickly as possible and you can go about the work of the contract. Often this information sharing is extremely time consuming, both the to TEP lead/COR/CO and the inspector and can delay the resolution of a protest, because of the time it takes to provide and review the information.
Ensuring that all of these steps have been taken and documenting them can be a very laborious, time-consuming process. This is an area where technology, such as effective contract management software can be invaluable and the best solution—especially in evaluation management.
Theresa Wilson is CEO of GovProcure, and designer of the first contract management cloud software for federal CORs, evaluators, and managers. To find out more about how GovProcure can help your organization, please call (571) 389-7284 or email Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org.