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Nick Wakeman

4 questions to ask when you lose a competition

I’m no lawyer so perhaps I’m missing the point when I read the Government Accountability Office’s decision rejecting the Education Department’s contract for the collection of delinquent student loans.

The $417.1 million contract was hit by 17 protests from disappointed bidders. In late March, GAO announced its decision but didn’t release the written document until this week.

It’s long at 41 pages and I’ll admit I didn’t grasp some of the nuances but one word or concept kept jumping out at me because I’ve read it before in other sustained protests – documentation.

GAO cited several instances where the Education Department failed to document its decision. That makes defending the decision nearly impossible if the logic behind the decision isn’t backed up. And creating the documentation after the fact and after GAO asks for it, doesn’t seem to cut the mustard either.

Now this contract isn’t necessarily an IT-rich one but the decision offers some clues on what to ask when you’ve lost a contract:

  • Don’t accept at face value when an agency says your proposal didn’t meet the criteria set forth in the solicitation. Ask for specifics.
  • Ask for documentation of evaluation findings and how the source selection process moved forward.
  • Look for inconsistencies in evaluations and award decisions.
  • Also look for signs of unstated requirements. These can be simple things such as the format of your proposal. That must be in the submission instructions.

Granted, you might have to make these asks during the bid protest process but these are things to keep in mind.

In this case, GAO says the Education Department had failings in all of these areas. The report assigned strengths to some companies but assigned weaknesses to other companies for the same things.

However, the most common problem stated by GAO came back to a failure to adequately document. But you won’t get to that without asking the right questions.

GAO wants the Education Department to conduct a new evaluation, then make a new award decision and, yep, “adequately document” it.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:16 PM

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