When You Assume: Proposals Don’t Automatically Include “Industry Standards”

When preparing a proposal for a Government solicitation, ensuring that your product or service meets all of the requirements specified by the Government’s solicitation is essential. Simple enough, right?

Not necessarily. One of the most frequent pitfalls in proposal preparation is assuming the Government understands your products and industry as well as you do, which may not be the case.  A recent GAO bid protest demonstrates that a “well-written proposal” sometimes must include information that a contractor might expect the Government evaluation team ought to know.

The protester in Government Scientific Source, Inc., B-416777 (Comp. Gen. Oct 18, 2018) recently made just that all-too-common error.

In the case, the protester was an unsuccessful awardee of a VA contract for “electronic analytical balances.” The Solicitation provided a number of brand-name balances as examples under a “brand name-or-equal specification,” indicating that alternatives to the brand-name models were acceptable. However, alternatives were still required to have “nine salient characteristics.” These specified characteristics included “a ‘[r]emovable pan for cleaning to reduce risk of contamination.’”

The Solicitation specified the “technical evaluation would use . . . descriptive literature” provided by each bid submitter “to evaluate whether the quoted products were technically acceptable, and to assess the degree and extent to which the RFQ requirements were satisfied.”

Ultimately, the VA determined that the protester did not show that the balances it proposed included the required removable pan.

The protester filed a GAO bid protest, arguing that its product obviously included removable pans, though not specified, because removable pans were “an industry standard for all balances, regardless of manufacturer.”

Though the removable pans may have been an “industry standard,” GAO pointed to the protester’s responsibility to submit “a well-written quotation, with adequately detailed information, that clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency.” Here, GAO concluded “the illustrations in [the protester’s] quotation [did] not show the pans in its balances are removable, nor does the text indicate the presence of removable pans.”

Though the removable pans may have been considered a given by the protester, and others in the protester’s line of work, assuming that the agency understood the protester’s products as well as those in the industry would was the protester’s fatal flaw. This case presents vital lessons for all government contractors. When submitting a bid, it’s wise to spell out how the product or service meets every requirement indicated in the solicitation, and never assume the Government is as industry-savvy as you.