Debriefings are a fundamental part of many government competitions. So it’s important for government contractors to understand what debriefings are, what they are not, and why they’re important. Here are five things you should know about debriefings:
- Debriefings are sometimes required (but sometimes not).
After spending a lot of time (and money) on a bid, it’s only natural that a contractor would want to know why its proposal was evaluated the way it was. But agencies aren’t always required to give a debriefing—they’re only required under competitive procurements (FAR Part 15) and for the award of task or delivery orders valued at more than $5.5 million (FAR 16.505(b)(6)). Debriefings aren’t required for any other type of acquisition.
But just because a debriefing is required doesn’t mean it’s automatic. You have to ask for one. When you receive the notice of award, it’s important to immediately ask (in writing) for a debriefing. If a debriefing isn’t requested within three days, you may be out of luck.
- A debriefing can be provided pre-award or post-award.
There are two types of debriefings: pre-award and post-award. Pre-award debriefings are for offerors eliminated from competition before an award is made, while a post-award debriefing explains the agency’s award decision.
- A debriefing will give you basic information about the evaluation.
The FAR tells contracting officers and offerors the information that should be included in a debriefing. Naturally, the information provided in a pre-award debriefing will be less than that under a post-award debriefing. But in general, the debriefing must provide a summary of the evaluation of your proposal (and, for post-award debriefings, basic information about the awardee).
- You can (and should) ask questions.
A debriefing is, at its core, an opportunity to learn more about the evaluation process. An important goal is to allow offerors to strengthen their offers under future procurements. In addition to the basic information required to be provided, the contracting officer must give you the opportunity to ask relevant questions about the evaluation.
Before your debriefing, give serious thought as to the type of information that would be helpful to know under future solicitations. Re-familiarize yourself with the solicitation’s statement of work, instructions, and evaluation criteria; if you have any questions as to whether the selection criteria was followed, the debriefing is your time to ask.
- A debriefing might affect your protest deadline.
The Government Accountability Office has strict deadlines to file bid protests. For pre-award protests, the protest must be filed before the proposal submission deadline. But be careful: following a competitive range exclusion, agencies will sometimes allow offerors to defer their pre-award debriefing until after the award is made. Doing so might inadvertently waive protest arguments. Instead, it’s usually best to request a pre-award debriefing if you were excluded from competition.
Post-award protests can be due as soon as ten days from when you first learned (or should have learned) of the basis of protest. But if a debriefing is required and timely requested, the post-award protest deadline is extended until ten days after you received the debriefing, regardless of when the protest ground was learned.
(Note that this is a discussion of timeliness deadlines; a different standard applies to obtain the automatic stay under the Competition in Contracting Act).
So what’s the gist? If you’re given the chance to request a debriefing, do so! And be an active participant in the process: the information learned may help you win the next solicitation (or even successfully challenge the award).