Best Practices for Preparing Responsive Proposals – Part 1

Government agencies use the Request for Proposal process to find the best available solution to their needs at the most competitive price. In competitive bidding, an agency has a duty to reject proposals that are non-responsive or that fail to comply with the invitation to bid in a material way. This promotes objectivity and fairness in the bidding process and ensures that vendors are competing on an equal footing.

In too many cases, contractors expend considerable time and effort developing a proposal that the contracting agency ultimately rejects as non-compliant or non-responsive. Part 1 outlines the format of standard RFPs.

Governing Regulations and Forms

The Federal Acquisition Regulations system sets uniform policies and procedures for acquisition by all executive agencies. FAR 15.203 establishes rules for RFPs, including the government’s requirements, anticipated terms and conditions, information required in the offeror’s proposal, and selection criteria. Agencies employ several standard forms in issuing RFPs, including:

  • SF 33 Services and Commodities
  • SF 1442 Construction
  • SF 1449 Commercial Items

In this blog post, we will focus on the FAR 15 requirements and SF 33.

Read the RFP and Understand the Agency’s Problem or Request

First things first. Read the entire RFP, including all attachments and referenced clauses or documents! Read it section by section. Never assume that all RFPs are equal. Not all agencies and offices structure RFPs the same way. Not all of them do it correctly. You may find important information in a different section or document than you were expecting to find it.

After you have read the RFP, go back and read it again, paying particular attention to the underlying problem the agency needs to solve and the request for goods or services that it specifies. As you are writing the proposal, you will want to keep these needs top of mind.

Schedule A – General Information

Schedule A often consists of a single-page solicitation form (e.g. Form 33). It provides basic information such as:

  • The Solicitation Number
  • The Type of Contract
  • Where and When to Submit Your Bid
  • Contact Information for the Contracting Officer

Schedule B: Supplies or Services and Prices

Often the bulk of the RFP in terms of pages, Schedule B provides a summary description of the contract requirements. It lists all requirements as Contract Line Items (CLINS) or Sub-line Items (SLINS). This section also includes other billable items such as travel and other direct costs (ODCs).

Schedule C: Description/Specs/Statement of Work

Since it outlines the agency’s needs, Schedule C forms the heart of the RFP. In writing your proposal, describe how you will fulfill the contract – and be certain that your solution meets all specifications. This section may include specific labor category requirements. For service contracts with defined labor categories, make sure your resources line up with the appropriate education, experience, and certification requirements.

Schedule D: Packaging and Marking

This section contains packaging, packing, preservation, and marking instructions. In some cases, products may require Unique Identification Marking (UID) labels. Many shipments require Military Specification (MIL-SPEC) packaging that resists water or sand. Some agencies require use of specific transportation, early notification of shipments, or specific forms and labels. Make sure your proposal addresses all RFP requirements.

Schedule E: Inspection & Acceptance

Schedule E details the inspection process and conditions that you must meet for the work to be accepted by the government. Inspection may occur during manufacturing, before shipment, or after delivery. Some contracts allow for self-inspection, while others require government employees to carry out the inspection. Keep in mind that inspection by an external party may delay shipment, so plan accordingly. Acceptance may occur only after delivery and testing, which can affect when you will be paid. Plan accordingly.

Schedule F: Deliveries or Performance

This schedule sets requirements for “where” and “how” you must deliver products. A single contract may require shipping to multiple locations, in different quantities, or by different methods. Make sure to price your product to conform to delivery instructions and that your products arrive by the required delivery date using the preferred shipping method. Keep in mind that agencies are free to reject shipments that do not arrive on time.

Schedule G: Contract Administration Data

This section sets standards for the ways in which you and agency personnel will interact during the contract. It may include:

  • Status reporting
  • Accounting and appropriation data
  • Contact information for key agency personnel

Some tasks or functions may be delegated.

Schedule H: Special Contract Requirements

This schedule can be a dumping ground for clauses and other important information.

Schedule I: Contract Clauses

Read the clauses carefully, as you will be bound by all clauses in the contract. Clauses can include:

  • Clauses that will be included in any resulting contract
  • Clauses in full text
  • Clauses incorporated by reference
  • FAR, agency supplements, and local clauses

Make sure you are compliant with all clauses, and price your proposal accordingly. Some clauses may increase your cost of compliance.

Clarify or reject any clauses that are not applicable or are inappropriate. These will become part of the awarded contract, so if you have questions on any that should or should not apply, ask at the RFP stage. In many cases, you may want to have an attorney review the clauses and your responses.

Schedule J: List of Attachments

RFPs and contracts are not single documents. They may include:

  • Drawings
  • Specifications
  • Statements of Work

Carefully review all attachments and clarify any conflicting information among the documents.

Schedule K: Representations, Certifications, & Other Statements

Sometimes called “Reps & Certs,” this section requires you to demonstrate eligibility by providing business entity information and certifying that you comply with all of the acquisition’s applicable laws and regulations. For example, an agency can only award a contract set aside for woman-owned, small businesses to a company that represents and certifies that it is a woman-owned, small business. You must complete this section even if your System for Award Management (SAM) registration is current.

Schedule L: Proposal Preparation Instructions

While the content of your proposal (products, services, and prices) are critical to your ability to win, delivering a compliant proposal may be what keeps you in the competitive range. Make sure you adhere to all proposal preparation requirements, including:

Proposals and elimination from the competitive range are the source of many protests. Failure to follow the instructions is not a valid basis for a protest, and it will likely be dismissed.

Schedule M: Evaluation Factors for Award

This section outlines how the agency will grade proposals – including yours! It includes main factors for consideration and the importance of each factor. It may include:

  • Lowest-price, technically acceptable (LPTA)
  • Tradeoff
  • Best value

Crafting responsive proposals is both a science and an art. There’s much more to the process than we can cover in a single blog post. Be sure to read Part 2 for specific tips. If you have questions about responsive proposals or any other aspect of the RFP process, call (614) 556-4415 or email robert@leftbrainpro.com.

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