OFPP Promotes Debriefings in Recent Guidance (Our Takeaway: Always Ask for One)

Brian S. Gocial

golcialbOn January 5, 2017, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (“OFPP”) issued a “myth-busting” memorandum to Chief Acquisition Officers, Senior Procurement Executives, and Chief Information Officers in the federal government addressing common myths related to government debriefings. The memorandum, titled “Myth-busting 3: Further Improving Industry Communication with Effective Debriefings,” is a continuation of the OFPP initiative first launched in February 2011 to debunk misconceptions about communications with the industry during federal government acquisitions and to assist agencies with adopting best acquisition practices.

The OFPP memorandum notes that debriefings are extremely valuable to help contractors “understand the weaknesses in their proposals so that they can make stronger offers on future procurements, which is especially important for small businesses as they seek to grow their positions in the marketplace.” OFPP further notes that effective debriefings result in “a decreased tendency by their supplier base to pursue protests,” and recommends that all federal agencies adopt a debriefing guide based on best practices to help facilitate effective and efficient debriefings.

The memorandum highlights a number of debriefing best practices adopted by Department of Homeland Security, NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Treasury Department, including:

  • Promoting a meaningful consideration of issues by soliciting vendors’ questions, and if applicable, provide the overall general ranking of the debriefed offeror’s proposal in relation to the other proposals;
  • Preparing government personnel on adequate procedures and overall roles and responsibilities by explaining what is and is not allowed to be discussed in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulations;
  • Including draft checklists and sample agenda items for both oral and written debriefing formats; and
  • Outlining useful tips to address debriefings in complex procurements and how to best engage additional stakeholders such as the program office subject matter experts and general counsel.

The memorandum includes an Appendix debunking the following eight specific misconceptions about the debriefing process:

  1. Misconception: “Companies do not really use the information provided in a debriefing to improve their work.”
  2. Misconception: “Debriefings always lead to protests.”
  3. Misconception: “Debriefings are unpredictable and there is no way for government personnel to prepare.”
  4. Misconception: “Contracting officials should provide minimal feedback for procurements conducted under the Federal Supply Schedules or when using simplified acquisition procedures because offerors who participate in acquisitions conducted using these tools understand that agencies are only required to give those offerors a brief explanation for the basis of the award decision.”
  5. Misconception: “When an offeror brings an attorney to the debrief that signals that the offeror will protest, therefore, contracting officials should limit the debrief discussion.”
  6. Misconception: “To avoid any issues being raised by the other offerors, the government should disclose to the debriefed offeror only its proposal ratings and that it was not selected as the winning proposal – the government should avoid engaging in further discussions or follow-up questions during the debrief.”
  7. Misconception: “The government should not spend time debriefing the winning offeror – this is not valuable to either side.”
  8. Misconception: “All debriefings should be completed in writing.”

To view the OFPP memorandum, common myths, and agency best practices for debriefings, click here.

The OFPP myth-busting memorandum is the latest effort by the Federal government to improve communication with the government contracts industry “as a core element for driving better return from each dollar spent on acquisitions.” All federal government contractors should be sure to take advantage of the debriefing opportunity afforded by federal agencies and remember to timely submit a written request for a post-award debriefing within three days after notification of contract award in accordance with FAR 15.503(b).