Debriefings can be a valuable tool, whether you are the awardee or the disappointed offeror. Think of it as a time to gather information that will assist you in drafting future proposals, understanding the agency “thought process”, and determining whether grounds exist for protesting the decision. When doing so, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Know What Information You Are Entitle to Receive:
The agency is not required to provide as much information in a pre-award protest as in a post award protest. In a pre-award situation, the agency must provide (1) an evaluation of significant elements in the offeror’s proposal; (2) a summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competition; and (3) reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed in the process of eliminating the offeror from the competition. FAR 15.505. Post-award, FAR 15.506 requires the agency to provide: (1) an evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror’s proposal, if applicable; (2) the overall evaluated cost or price (including unit prices) and technical rating, if applicable, of the successful offeror and the debriefed offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror; (3) the overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection; (4) a summary of the rationale for award; (5) for acquisitions of commercial items, the make and model of the item to be delivered by the successful offeror; and (6) reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed.
Always Request a Debriefing and Do So Immediately:
It is always in a contractor’s best interest to request a debriefing. The request need not be formal – a simple email will do. The reasons include those stated above but even the awardee should consider such a request. The awardee can use the debriefing as a chance to identify issues that might be protested by disappointed offerors or as a means to support the agency should a protest be filed. Be sure to accept the first day offered by the agency for a debriefing because this is the day that begins the running of the clock – protest must be filed within 10 days of award or five days of the first date offered for the debriefing, whichever is later in order to obtain a stay of award or performance.
Debriefings can be written, oral, or in any other method acceptable to the contracting officer. Particularly in the context of an oral debriefing, preparation is key to getting the most from a debriefing. First, know your proposal and the source selection material. Second, consider researching the awardee. Third, be ready to ask questions about RFP source selection procedures and other applicable authorities and evaluation factors to elicit more information about the agency’s decision. Fourth, have more than one person available to take notes. Everyone hears things differently. You want to record all of the reasons for the agency’s decision, especially the most challenging ones. Be polite, do not state counter-arguments. Your main objective is to listen and record what the stated rationale is. It is not time to make your argument or try to change agency’s mind. The time for that is when you file your protest.