I always have to shake my head when I see stories on protests that are somehow tied back to page limit restrictions in federal solicitations.
Case in point, a recent interview by Tom Temin of Federal News Network and Joseph Petrillo, a Procurement attorney with the law firm Petrillo and Powell, discusses two protests that deal with this issue.
It made me think back to a commercial for IBM (I believe), where office workers are stuck in a conference room with the manager, and everyone was told they cannot leave until they figure out how to save money. One of the employees pointed to the mountain of binders on the desk, and asked how much they were spending on all these binders and all this paper? Millions. Millions…
I can’t help feel the same way about this situation in federal procurement, where the government spends enormous amounts of resources on huge requests for proposals (RFPs), larded with pages and pages of every requirement under the sun, including minutiae on instructing vendors on how to submit proposals, specific fonts, font-sizes, tables, and of course, page limits. All these resources often times go to low-priced buying in the end. What is the point?
There is a better way, and right out of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Specifically,
15.102 Oral presentations.
(a) Oral presentations by offerors as requested by the Government may substitute for, or augment, written information. Use of oral presentations as a substitute for portions of a proposal can be effective in streamlining the source selection process. [emphasis added].
I would like to see more use of oral presentations as proposals, and focus not on the binders and page limits, but on the solutions. The government should be spending its time providing instructions on time allotments to the presentation, and working on how long each presentation should be to fully understand the solutions and how they will performed and delivered.
Further, the presentations should also be centered around use cases having the vendor present multiple sample tasks and scenarios. Adding a real-world task or test for the vendor on the spot is an excellent way to see how the vendor thinks, interacts with the team, and how the program will be managed.
This effective alternative to written paper-based submissions is a much more effective use of the government’s resources, and precious bid and proposal dollars for industry.
One of the most important reasons for conducting orals is the ability of conducting dialogue with the vendor. The government can ask both standardized questions, and also importantly, individualized questions which are on-the-spot during the oral presentation to ensure the government fully understands the offeror’s proposed approach or solution.
Nonetheless, various reasons are given both by government and industry on why this a bad idea, mainly stemming from fear of improper discussions and overall risk aversion from anything different than the status quo (i.e. 100-page RFPs). These fears are often exaggerated, and have also been disproven such as the denial of these protests (see GAO-412163.2).
The streamlining of the acquisition process through the reduction in paper makes the evaluation and review processes of solicitations much faster, and the interactive dialogue of oral presentations gives the government greater confidence in selecting the best contractor for the work; a real best value decision.
Doesn’t this make more sense than senseless fights about page counts, table sizes, and font sizes?