Companies Can Improve Solicitation Responses
As the military works to leverage industry innovation at a scale not seen before, acquisition officials are at the forefront of industry interactions, seeing corporate submissions in response to solicitations. Common and preventable mistakes continue to permeate responses to requests for proposals (RFPs).
Insufficient cost proposal preparation, parroting of solicitation information and not describing the proposed solution effectively are common mistakes companies make, according to Danielle Moyer, executive director of the Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving Ground. Companies also ignore basic proposal formatting specifications and forget to include required information.
Moyer and other contracting officials from Aberdeen spoke to roughly 1,200 industry and military officials at the Program Executive Officer Command, Control and Communications-Tactical’s Technical Exchange Meeting X in Philadelphia on May 24.
The Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen also has goals for itself, including having faster solicitation-to-award time frames; providing more frequent engagements with industry; planning and contracting for a system’s total life cycle, “where it makes sense” and pursuing public-private partnerships, Moyer said.
“We are trying to create a culture of innovation where mistakes are ‘OK’ and we are willing to learn from them,” she stated.
As part of the effort to increase engagement, the command is planning to host a workshop on August 9 at the Command’s Source Selection Support Center of Excellence to teach industry officials how to prepare cost/price proposals. “Well-managed projects are the best projects,” Moyer noted. “We will train you how to do FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] costing so that so we can get better proposals.”
At the workshop, cost/pricing officials from each division will be at the event to also provide smaller breakout sessions with companies, she said.
Matthew Maier, project manager, Interoperability, Integration and Services, Program Executive Office, Command, Control and Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), noted PEO C3T’s technical exchange meetings solicitation for white papers for basic and applied research, part of capability development not related to a specific system or hardware procurement.
The white paper effort offers industry a better understanding of capability gaps and operational context, driving areas of focus for the Army. With submitted white papers on capabilities, the PEO C3T can select companies for further experimentation or prototyping.
The next solicitation for white papers, under Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) BA 6.4 BAA-21-R-NCFT, will be released officially on SAM.gov and on through the PEO C3T’s Joint Communications Marketplace (JCM). Industry can expect a draft call for white papers to be released soon.
Brian Bosmans, contracting official from Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving Ground, also offered tips for submitting white papers and other solicitations.
“During the white paper stage when we are evaluating companies, what we are finding is that industry is just not reading the instructions for submitting a white paper,” he said. “We have gate criteria, which would then allow your white paper to be passed on to be technically evaluated. And that gate criteria is laid out very specifically.”
Companies should closely examine any draft call for white papers, as well as the final solicitation call for white papers and the instructions, including formatting specifications, page limits and technology readiness levels, or TRLs.
The command created a helpful guide to consult before submitting white papers, which can also be found through the JCM. “For TEM 8 [Technical Exchange Meeting 8], we did develop a checklist, which has kind of every single thing you need to hit,” Bosmans stated. “I would really suggest taking a look at that checklist.”
Well-managed projects are the best projects. We will train you how to do FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] costing so that so we can get better proposals.
Moreover, for technology demonstrations, companies should have engineers or other technical specialists conduct demonstrations.
“The tech demos allow the government to take your eight-page white paper solution and really pull on some strings and for questions that we have or things from a technical perspective that we really didn’t see in your white paper,” he explained. “Make sure you use that time to technically pitch your solution; we have a very finite amount of time for each demo, and we are seeing almost 30 minutes upfront for a kind of business development pitch. There is a time and place for that, but not in the technical demonstrations. Those tech demons should really [feature] the technical and engineering aspects. And build in time for Q&A at the end.”
Bosmans quickly polled the room, and industry officials indicated a desire to return to in-person technical demonstrations as opposed to virtual meetings.
In addition, Moyer discouraged companies’ use of generative artificial intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, in preparing proposals. “I am not going to adapt to that,” she said. “Because what I am not OK with is generic proposals. We are asking for something specific, and you should deliver something specific. I do not want proposals where you just regurgitate the solicitation information.”
Industry that has questions for the Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen can reach out via email to Usarmy.firstname.lastname@example.org.