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Why Procurement Officials Shouldn't Fear Debriefings

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The White House has a strong message for the government's buying officials: talk to the companies that bid on a contract about why they did or didn't win the award.

The Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently released a "myth-buster" memo clearing up misconceptions about debriefing meetings, the post-award discussions often requested by unsuccessful vendors curious about why they weren't selected.

Among common practices OFPP tried to bust: "If a company brings a lawyer, cut the discussion short."

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Vendors may decide to bring a lawyer to a debriefing meeting because internal policies require them to have a lawyer present, the memo said. It doesn't "necessarily signal a heightened potential for a protest or potential of a difficult conversation"—especially if the agency is prepared to answer questions.

Here are a few other takeaways from that memo, intended to guide chief acquisition officers, senior procurement executives and chief information officers through "productive interactions with its industry partners:”

  • Companies never actually improve their work as a result of a debriefing, and it always leads to protests. Actually, "offerors are less likely to protest if they understand what the outcome is," the memo said. NASA's debriefing guide notes vendors spend "substantial sums of money and time to participate in the acquisition process and deserve to receive a thorough and meaningful debriefing.” Even if they don't get an award, vendors can "accept unfavorable findings ... if they perceive that the government has acted with fairness, consistency, objectivity and in accordance with evaluation criteria described in the solicitation."
  • There’s no way for an agency to prepare for debriefings. Agencies aren't always able to predict why a vendor has asked for a debriefing, but they can make assumptions. For example, unsuccessful offerors may want to understand how they can do better in the future. "A well-prepared and clearly-organized debriefing will gain the confidence of the unsuccessful offeror by demonstrating that the government’s selection was merit based, rational and reasonable."
  • Debriefings are only valuable to the losers. Even a meeting with a successful vendor could help contracting officials gather feedback on the solicitation and selection process, OMB noted.

OFPP also recommended agencies come up with their own debriefing guides if they don't have them already.

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