Why Federal Proposals Exist

Why do proposals even exist? Contrary to popular belief, proposals are not written so federal evaluators can select the best, high-value solution to their problem. Instead, proposals are prepared by contractors and submitted because federal acquisition regulations (FAR) require that this procedure be followed in order to document that a competition was held.

Why aren't proposals used as a method to find the best solution? The answer lies in the fact that, for services solicitations at least, the decision on the eventual contract winner has been made far in advance of the time the proposals are written. The agency wants an incumbent contractor back to eliminate a disruption in operations. Nonetheless, the agency is required by regulation to hold a public competition. Although the end user knows and trusts its existing solution provider, the contracting officer may demand that a public competition take place. In this situation, the winning company has to write a defensive proposal to defend their pre-established position with the customer. Does the contracting officer care about the number of trees that went into the losing proposals? Not really.

The eventual winner of the contract is not always predetermined. However, don't lie awake at night counting the revenue that you are going to receive from blind bids. You can win a small percentage but you will spend way too much money writing losing proposals and, equally importantly, burn out your staff in the process. Is there a better solution? Multiple award schedule contracts like GSA Schedules are a partial solution but don't look for any revolutionary solutions anytime soon. The political pressure to keep up an appearance of competition is too intense.

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