If you have been a government contractor for any period of time, you have likely read one of those RFPs that left you scratching your head. You think, “How could anyone possibly respond to this?” Maybe there isn’t enough information to complete a pricing schedule. Or maybe the scope of work asks for one solution, but the requirements are completely opposite of that.
One of my favorites was an RFP that sought a COTS solution but wrote the requirements such that it could only be a custom-built solution. Or there was also the RFP for call center services that provided no historical call volume data or desired hours of operation.
If you find yourself in this position, what do you do? You want the business, but don’t know how you can respond appropriately.
Don’t Shy Away from Asking for Help
If you’re at all unclear about an RFP, your first action should be to contact the procurement officer responsible for the solicitation. You will likely be instructed to attend the pre-bid conference and take advantage of the solicitation’s QA process. During this process, you will be allowed to submit written questions and then hear the government’s response, with the goal of clearing up confusion or correcting flaws. The procurement officer may issue an amendment that corrects the confusion. But, what if you miss the pre-bid conference or nothing changes in response to your questions?
Communicate to the Stakeholders
Another option is to communicate your confusion to government stakeholders. These are the people who oversee procurement or even agency leadership that may use the future contract to make purchases. Often times, these officials may not be aware that the solicitation has been issued or that there are issues with the requirements. When all is said and done, it is in their best interests to make sure the scope of work is accurate. Put the reasons why you cannot bid on the current RFP in writing addressed to the procurement officer and send a copy to the stakeholders you want to reach. The government is not required to respond in writing, but a procurement supervisor may get involved in the procurement process and approach the procurement officer for clarification if you communicate early on.
Consider the Legal Option
If still nothing works, it may be time to evaluate a legal option. Protesting a solicitation is an available route, which very few vendors take advantage. But, you may be successful in pursuing a protest if the flaws are so serious and material that the award of the contract could be impacted.
Finally, sometimes you have to make the decision not to compete. After evaluating the cost of responding to the RFP in terms of your time, resources and pricing, it may make better business sense to take a pass. And, if other companies feel the same way, you may see the RFP cancelled before the due date. The government wants robust competition.
Of course, the best alternative is to develop strong relationships with government officials and procurement officers early on before the RFP is ever released. By educating officials on what is available in the market and how it can benefit government operations, you are in the position to help shape the future RFP scope of work so it does make sense.