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Spelling errors kill $100M Alliant bid

The Government Accountability Office sent a powerful message when it denied a bid protest filed by a prime on the Alliant Small Business contract: grammar and spelling count.

Federal Acquisition Services Alliant Joint Venture submitted a bid for a task order to provide IT support services to the Agriculture Department’s National Information Technology Center. According to the GAO decision, the task order is worth more than $100 million.

The joint venture, known as FASA, had its bid rejected as being technically unacceptable, and after its debrief, the company filed a protest. After reading the GAO decision, I’m wondering why they bothered.

GSA found FASA's proposal “riddled with grammatical errors . . . lack of contractor vs. government identification; spelling errors; lack of acronym identification, consistency and accuracy; inconsistent reference and terminology; and punctuation errors.”

Because of these errors, GSA couldn’t understand a significant portion of the proposal and felt that the errors indicated a performance risk if the company couldn’t perform quality control.

FASA's counter-argument: GSA was being unreasonable because language or grammar were not identified among the solicitation’s evaluation factors. In other words, GSA applied an “unstated evaluation criteria.”

GAO, of course, disagreed and pointed to several passages in the solicitation calling for proposals to be “written in a practical, clear and concise manner.”

GAO said that bidders must submit a well-written proposal “that allows for a meaningful review by the procuring agency.”

The performance work statement also required that employees of the contractor possess “strong written and oral communication skills in the English language.”

It seems reasonable to me to conclude that if your proposal is riddled with grammar and spelling errors, then the bidder is going to struggle to meet language skill requirements.

GAO also rejected FASA’s arguments that its implementation plan and staffing approach plan were improperly evaluated.

In a footnote, GAO says there were minor errors on GSA’s part, but that FASA’s proposal contained “multiple omissions, inconsistencies, and exceptions to the requirements.”

Another interesting point raised in the GAO decision is that 18 companies bid on the work, and 16 of those 18 were, like FASA, eliminated from the competition because their proposals were deemed technically unacceptable.

I have to wonder why so many were rejected. Is there a systemic problem in the industry with poorly written proposals? But that’s a different story.

It might be easy to laugh off FASA’s poor grammar and spelling, but no one should laugh too hard. As someone who writes for a living, I know how easily spelling mistakes happen. I once wrote an obituary and said the person died of congenial heart disease instead of congenital heart disease --just one letter off, but a world apart in meaning.

When mistakes happen, you have to own them, and you can’t blame the evaluation criteria.

When you are pursuing a $100 million contract, hire a copyeditor or pull someone in who is not part of the proposal team. Have them read it. It’s amazing what fresh eyes will catch.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 17, 2015 at 8:24 AM


Reader Comments

Tue, Jan 19, 2016 X

Certain contract shops deliberately invoke petty objective errors to guard against protest. This is the state of the game these days.

Mon, Dec 28, 2015

we all know this was wired by NITC to local company, they are successful 3rd time in a row., what a waste of tax payers money. I cant believe that NITC can such mistake.

Mon, Dec 28, 2015 Kansas city

Spelling is not the real reason. Know of subject is what this issue must be. This is an attempt to give this to the incumbent team. Everyone who has been in the procurement process understands this process.

Fri, Dec 18, 2015 BB FL

Idiots are everywhere including the government contracting space. However one of your last facts intrieged me; 16 of 18 bidders were eliminated for having unacceptable technical proposals. You joked re: grammar, spelling, etc... However, I think there is something else going on here. A requirement "open" enough to encourage 18 proposals, but "closed" enough to slam the door on 16 of them. At the very least, a truly bad job of communicating by the government. And, at the worst, pre-determined winner wired from the beginning of the process. It happens, more than we would like to admit so I am not disputing that. It would be interesting to see if the winning bidder was also the lowest price of the two remaining competitors...eliminate the competitors and choose lowest remaining price...classic stuff!
Or maybe not. 16 out of 18 bidders were just idiots like the guys who protested...who knows!

Fri, Dec 18, 2015

All the proposals I wrote (they were a lot less than 100M) went through 4 or 5 people. So grant it a few may make it through but based on what I read above, there was not enough oversight in this area.

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