Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Close may count in horseshoes, but not in Federal proposal submissions

As a proposal writer, I get a number of proposal-related emails. While most of the people who write such emails in this country are focused on the Federal market, some of the things in the newsletters apply to state & local government proposals also.

Fedmarket is obviously trying to get people to buy their services, but they make a compelling case for the need for their services:

Companies that either miss or nearly miss proposal submittal deadlines usually don't trumpet their stories to their cohorts. After all, it is not exactly a badge of courage. Yet, at countless bars throughout the Metro area, you frequently will overhear the story....

Why would such a thing happen to supposedly sophisticated federal contractors? Pure and simple. It's a failure on the part of management to pay attention to the preparation of the proposal. In fact, it is a problem that may never be solved. Proposal writing is the ugly stepchild of federal contracting. Management hates it and many bury their heads in the sand and hope it will get out on time

More here, including links to Fedmarket's service offerings.

Laura Durity lists some examples of missed deadlines.

In 2009...the GAO upheld an agency’s decision to reject the proposal of a contractor which arrived (in person) just minutes late. The contractor’s representative arrived at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas only eight minutes before a 2:00 pm deadline to file its proposal in response to a NASA solicitation. The representative (surprise, surprise) found it difficult to clear security and make it across the base in eight minutes, and, consequently, submitted its proposal 29 minutes late. The agency rejected the proposal as untimely.

[T]he GAO concluded that the contractor should have anticipated delays in gaining access to the government facility, and that the delays encountered could not be blamed on the agency....

U.S. Aerospace, which teamed with Ukrainian state-owned Antonov to propose an An-70 tanker to replace the KC-135, protested the Air Force’s removal of its proposal from the KC-X bidding for tardiness. The RFP clearly advised offerors that proposals must be received in person at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by 2:00 pm on July 9, 2010. A U.S. Aerospace messenger delivered U.S. Aerospace’s proposal on July 9 to the contracting officer’s representative and received a receipt indicating that proposal was delivered at 2:05 pm. A few days later, the Air Force notified U.S. Aerospace that its proposal was late and would not be considered. In its initial protest, U.S. Aerospace argued, among other things, that its messenger had been given bad directions by the Government guard.

GAO held that, even if the guard’s inaccurate directions did delay the submission of U.S. Aerospace’s proposal, U.S. Aerospace was responsible for its late submission. It was U.S. Aerospace’s “decision to attempt entry at a gate not designated for non-military visitors” less than an hour before the deadline, to “not obtain advance approval for entry,” and to not “previously ascertain the location of, and directions to, the building designated for proposal submission.”

Durity's advice?

While it is comforting to see the Court recognize that not all late submissions are the fault of the contractor, this recognition should not obscure the real lesson here. Late usually is late, and demonstrating that a late submission is the Government’s fault is a steep uphill task. So file early folks. No contractor (or counsel) wants to be in the position of having to say to the boss (to quote the late great secret agent Maxwell Smart) “missed it by that much.”
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