The US Government Accountability Office’s decisions on bidders protests regarding lost bids is a source we have used several times to illustrate real examples of common incumbent mistakes.

Below we have pulled together two real life recompete losses which, while being over 17 years apart, illustrate what we believe is essentially the same error. An error we see made in one way or another by many incumbents:

Date: March 4, 1998
Reference: B-278695
Protestor: Modern Technologies Corporation

Modern Technologies Corp. (MTC) protested their failure to receive one of the five awards made by the Department of the Air Force, issued to procure omnibus support services for the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

In their review GAO noted:
“MTC challenges nearly every facet of the evaluation process that led to the selection of the winners. MTC argues that its ratings under the management and technical areas, in every instance, should have been higher, while the awardees’ corresponding ratings should have been lower.
A prevailing theme in MTC’s protests is that the agency did not give MTC adequate credit for its successful incumbency under the predecessor contract. In essence, MTC argues that its incumbency–or the lack of incumbency of other offerors–should have affected every facet of the evaluation

In our view, MTC asks too much of its status as an incumbent contractor”

They went on to say:

“With respect to the assessments of proposal risk made for each evaluation factor, the appropriate point of departure for this assessment was the proposal, not the agency’s experience with MTC, no matter how good it may have been. In each of these instances, the evaluators made judgments based on MTC’s proposal–or on the proposals of the other offerors–and assigned a risk to the approach. Similarly, in each of the assessments of proposal merit, the agency appears to have properly weighed the merit of the proposed approach, rather than considering MTC’s experience–or another offeror’s lack of experience–in evaluating the factor. Nothing in MTC’s contentions that all of these assessments should have been keyed to its past experience leads us to conclude that the evaluation was unreasonable.

With respect to the assessment of performance risk, the record here shows that MTC’s past performance of this contract was considered relevant, and resulted in a low performance risk rating–the best rating available–but MTC did not receive extra credit for being the incumbent for these services.”
The protest was denied.

Date: September 22nd 2015
Reference: B-411427.2
Protestor: FFLPro

FFLPro protested the award by the Department of State of a cyber training contract to another supplier.
FFLPro protested the Department’s evaluation of corporate experience, past performance and property management as well as the agency’s best value and source selection decision.
The GAO decision states that:

“As an initial matter, FFLPro’s arguments are largely based on the protestor’s view that as an incumbent subcontractor, only FFLPro’s proposal merited the highest evaluation ratings. According to the protestor no other HUBZone offeror could possibly demonstrate corporate experience or past performance equal to FFLPro’s and no other proposal, including the winners, could have the same strengths or exceed the solicitations requirements in the same way.”

However, the GAO go on to say:

“FFLPro’s belief that its incumbency status entitles it to higher ratings does not provide a basis for finding the agency’s evaluation unreasonable. There is no requirement that an incumbent be given extra credit for its status as an incumbent, or that the agency assign or reserve the highest rating for the incumbent offeror.”
Based on this and a rejection of the protestor other issues, the protest was denied.

A common lesson

We see both these examples as, at their core, illustrations of the same problem many incumbents create in their recompetes They assume, often subconsciously (although we see some examples where it is all too conscious) that they can use their incumbency as a ‘blunt weapon’ in their rebid. This means they either assume they will get marks just for being the incumbent, or that they can simply make statements in their proposal that amount to ‘our experience as the incumbent means our solution is self-evidently the best’.

As the first example shows, customers will often take into account your incumbency in some aspects of their evaluation. But that doesn’t mean they are going to give you a free pass to a higher score. You have to earn every mark you get by what you put forward in your proposal. For us that means using your incumbency as a precision tool, not a blunt weapon.

Using your incumbency as a precision tool means looking at specific and relevant aspects of your incumbency. And using these as evidence to illustrate in detail in your proposal specifically how and why particular parts of your solution for the next contract are relevant and superior.

For example, statements like: “As the incumbent we understand the customer’s needs” just won’t cut it. If you see a statement like this in your draft proposal, ask yourself:

• Have these needs been explained in our proposal more clearly and accurately than they could be in the competitors’ bids?
• What evidence are we including to show we have meet these needs to date?
• How does our proposed solution take these needs into account and cater for them over the coming period better than the competition could?

Similarly, if your customer reads in your proposal a bland statement like: “Our solution is based on the experience we have gained during the current contract”, they are likely to ask themselves:

• What specific experience do you mean?
• How has your experience influenced the new solution?
• What examples can you show me of how this experience has made the solution better for us?
• But what about our next contract? Our needs are different, how does your experience of what you were delivering help with our new needs? Have you just repeated your present solution?

Only if you have specifically answered those more detailed type of questions in your proposal will you have used your incumbency effectively to gain a higher score.
Your incumbency does give you real advantages in your rebid. But it doesn’t give you the right to a higher score. Only by sharpening your advantages with real preparation and effort, and using them with precision will they help you deliver a win.