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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Demand a debrief; it's your right

One of the reasons I often hear from people about why companies file bid protests is because of poor to non-existent debriefings by agencies after a contract awards.

So, I took notice when three Commerce Department acquisition and procurement officials speaking at our Washington Technology Commerce IT Day today each independently mentioned debriefs and that losing contractors should demand them.

Marcelle Lovejoy, chief of the IT services branch within the Strategic Sourcing Acquisition Division at NOAA, included debriefs as a key part of her communication initiatives with contractors.

Todd Hill, a team leader at NIST’s Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, emphasized that is a right of losing bidders to have a debrief and contractors needs to exercise that right.

Debriefs are away for agencies to improve their contracts and for contractors to improve their proposals, said Scott Palmer, director of the office of procurement at the Patent and Trademark Office.

Better debriefs also should reduce the number of bid protests, he said.

I’ve heard many companies complain, and Palmer mentioned it as well, that agencies will send an email that basically states, "you lost the competition, and here’s how much the winning bidder bid." There is no substantive information about why one proposal topped another. Companies are left with little choice other than to protest.

But Palmer also warned that if you are just angry about not winning, you probably should protest.

I’ve seen it in many of the bid protest decisions where GAO sides with the agency – disagreeing with a decision isn’t a reason to overturn it.

“But you should be able to poke around and learn what we did,” Palmer said. “Did we do what we said we’d do?”

The process is what counts in bid protests. The question GAO is looking at for the most part is whether the agency followed the processes and procedures it describes in the solicitation. If the agency did, the bid protest stands little chance of succeeding.

As Palmer said, GAO gives agencies “wide latitude” and “broad discretion” when it comes to making best value judgments.

And, of course, it is worth noting that a successful bid protest doesn’t automatically translate into a contract award for the protester. We’ve seen several examples where the agency re-evaluates bids in light of the GAO decision and still makes the award to the original winner.

We saw that recently when USIS (now part of PAE) won a contract with the Homeland Security Department for the second time. The award was taken away by GAO, which told DHS to re-evaluate. They did and still gave the contract to USIS. The losing bidder has filed a second protest, so that fight isn’t quite over.

But whether you want to protest or not, these procurement professionals couldn’t have been clearer: Demand your debriefs. It’s good for the contractor and your customer.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 28, 2015 at 9:32 AM

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