Poorly Written Proposals--What Happens?
Well written proposals in response to government contract solicitations are important for any contractor who wants to obtain federal contracts. There is a flourishing industry on the internet and in the consulting world that provides contractors with assistance in proposal writing. Perhaps more contractors should avail themselves of those services? The problem is that many contractors are unable to write a readable, concise, convincing and responsive proposal. That’s what happened to MacAulay-Brown, Inc. in a proposal it submitted to the General Services Administration (“GSA”) for information technology (“IT”) services in support of intelligence activities for the U.S. Army. (GSA was procuring IT services on behalf of the Army). MacAulay-Brown, Inc., B-413311 et al, Sept. 29, 2016.
One key problem in MacAulay-Brown’s proposal was that instead of explaining how it would meet the solicitation’s requirements, it mostly just reiterated the solicitation’s language verbatim and expected the agency to fill in the blanks. MacAulay-Brown also failed to address important solicitation requirements. That is the wrong way to write a proposal if you want a chance at winning the contract.
The solicitation stated that the evaluation criteria for the technical solution and experience factors included consideration of the degree to which the proposal adequately addressed the firm’s solution and previous experience in relation to the various work statement’s sections and subsections. In evaluating MacAulay’s proposal, GSA assessed four technical weaknesses. The contractor protested that three of these weaknesses were unreasonable, but the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) found otherwise upon review of the proposal.
Here’s why the GAO agreed with GSA that the proposal had significant weaknesses:
Weakness in two key personnel positions (senior systems engineer and information assurance manager). MacAulay-Brown’s proposal completely reiterated the relevant section of the solicitation sentence by sentence. This did not provide a clear understanding of the offeror’s technical solution. MacAulay-Brown also failed to provide specific previous experience for the two key personnel. Instead of explaining how the experience of the two personnel it proposed would meet the solicitation’s requirements, MacAulay-Brown largely just repeated the solicitation.
Weaknesses in information assurance manager position on accreditation matters and information assurance plan. The solicitation required the contractor to guide the enterprise team through the Army’s Chief Information Officer accreditation processes. MacAulay-Brown’s proposal never included any specific discussion of the proposed assurance manager’s experience in guiding an enterprise team through any relevant accreditation process. In addition, the solicitation required the contractor to ensure information assurance through a Plan of Action and Milestones process. MacAulay-Brown’s proposal never addressed how its proposed information assurance manager had experience with this type of milestone/plan of action process. Apparently (although not clearly stated in the GAO decision) the protester provided short statements without giving the GSA any relevant information on capabilities.
Weakness in software operations. The solicitation required the contractor to install, secure, configure, integrate, document, operate and manage an Oracle server, the software, the databases and other software solutions. MacAulay-Brown’s proposal never discussed securing, configuring or operating the server, the software, the other databases or the other software solutions. The protest is unclear on what the proposal actually did discuss, but the GAO concluded that the key requirements were not addressed.
As a result, GAO denied the protest, holding that GSA’s assignment of three weaknesses to the proposal was appropriate, because the proposal failed to address these key sections in the solicitation. GAO noted that all offerors are responsible for submitting a well written proposal, with adequately detailed information that clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation and that allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency—otherwise the agency will evaluate it unfavorably.
The lesson here is very clear—in your proposal, don’t just copy the words in a solicitation. Provide meaningful descriptions of how your company can meet the solicitation’s requirements, point by point. (By the way, it helps to write your proposal in the same sequence as the solicitation so the agency can easily determine if you have addressed everything that is required). And if your company lacks the relevant experience required by the solicitation, either obtain personnel with relevant experience and offer them to the government, or don’t both submitting a proposal at all.