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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Booz Allen protest offers lesson for incumbents

Booz Allen Hamilton lost a bid protest for a Navy contract where it tried to unseat Jacobs Technology, the incumbent.

The ruling by the Government Accountability Office indicates two things: how tough it can to beat an incumbent when the customer likes them, and the pressures incumbents face.

The contract with the Navy was for IT systems and support at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, primarily at China Lake and Point Mugu, Calif.

Booz Allen objected to the evaluation of Jacobs past performance. They argued that the Navy improperly considered only the most recent annual past performance rating for Jacobs.

In a second argument, Booz Allen said that the price adjustments the Navy applied to Jacobs' bid showed a lack of understanding of the contract, and that Jacobs' proposed compensation plan represented a risk.

GAO rejected Booz Allen’s contention, saying the past performance evaluation argument was without merit. While there may have been errors in the evaluation, Booz Allen was not prejudiced by them.

I think Booz Allen’s focus on past performance makes sense because that’s the Achilles heel of incumbents, and just because they didn’t win their argument doesn’t mean that incumbents shouldn’t be worried about attacks on their past performance.

Without getting into the legal arguments for why GAO ruled against them, I thought that Booz Allen made a noteworthy point; they complained that the Navy only looked at the latest past performance report, which only covered about six months. If they had looked at the entire life of the contract, Booz Allen argued, the conclusion on Jacobs performance could have been different.

GAO rejected the argument because the Navy never said it would look at five years of past performance, only that it wanted past performance from contracts or subcontracts that had been held in the past five years. The Navy also was consistent in the way it looked at past performance across all of the bidders.

To me, it doesn’t matter who won the argument but that there is a lesson here for challengers and incumbents.

For incumbents, the focus on performance and customer satisfaction seems to be at an all-time high. The best way to keep that customer is to understand how they really see your performance.

The flipside for challengers is the need to understand the incumbent’s weaknesses and shortcomings and craft a proposal that addresses those weaknesses and shortcomings. It isn’t about bashing the incumbent as much as it is understanding the customer’s needs.

I attended an Association of Proposal Management Professionals event where they had a panel on why incumbents lose.

One point the panelists made is that incumbents are losing more often.

That might be the case, but I also think that this Booz Allen protest also shows the strong positions incumbents are in.

The success or failure of a recompete is in their grasp. If they have been delivering, they win, and if they haven’t, the risk of a loss grows quickly.

Bottom line: Don’t be complacent.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 07, 2014 at 9:22 AM

Reader Comments

Tue, Apr 8, 2014 Mel Ostrow

A truly insightful analysis

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