Politicians love vagueness. It’s easy for a candidate to promise broad generalities like lower taxes, a stronger military, better schools, or a free pony in the backyard for every American child (okay, I made that last one up). It’s a lot more difficult to provide specifics about how all those wonderful things will be achieved.
Government contractors, too, can be tempted to rely on vague declarations in proposal-writing. After all, it’s a lot easier than addressing the nuts-and-bolts of the procuring agency’s needs. But as one contractor recently discovered in a GAO bid protest decision, a vague proposal may also be an unacceptable proposal.
The GAO’s decision in SOURCECORP BPS, Inc., B-406792 (Aug. 24, 2012) involved a Homeland Security solicitation for digitization services. The solicitation included four evaluation factors: technical capability, socioeconomic status, past performance, and price. The technical capability factor included the requirement that offerors provide a contingency plan for continuity of operations in the event of a disaster.
SOURCECORP BPS, Inc. submitted a proposal. Instead of submitting a detailed contingency plan, SOURCECORP stated that its approach was to “study the various risk mitigation options” and evaluate their costs and benefits. SOURCECORP then mentioned various components that are “typically” included in contingency plans, as well as “goals” for a continuity plan.
DHS was not impressed with SOURCECORP’s contingency plan. It assigned SOURCECORP an “unacceptable” score under the Management Approach technical subfactor, where the contingency plan requirement was stated.
SOURCECORP filed a GAO bid protest. Among other things, SOURCECORP alleged that it was improper for DHS to assign it an unacceptable score under the Management Approach subfactor.
The GAO disagreed. It wrote, “[b]ased on our review, the agency reasonably found that the protester’s contingency plan was generic in nature, and did not discuss a specific approach . . ..” The GAO denied SOURCECORP’s bid protest.
Proposal-writing is no easy task, but the SOURCECORP BPS GAO bid protest decision demonstrates that providing the procuring agency with vague, generic statements is not the answer. If only politicians would get the same message.