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Posted on Friday, August 16, 2019

Offerors Must Carefully Write Every Part of a Proposal

In the rush to get a proposal finalized and submitted to the government on time, it’s understandable that offerors cannot always labor over every word in every sentence. Unfortunately, attention to detail is critical. Recently, an offeror’s failure to write its technical proposal to clearly give itself credit for previous work was one reason it lost a recent solicitation.

 An Air Force procurement used a self-scoring system that required an offeror to provide a technical narrative backing up the points it was claiming. According to the solicitation, to get 200 points available under the data or system migration sub-element, an offeror had to demonstrate experience “migrating an information system or its data during the life-cycle to include moving data or the information system from the previous operating environments to the new operating environments.” In addition, the solicitation told offerors to “identify both the previous and new operating environments of the data or IS [information system] that was moved.”

One offeror’s proposal used the passive voice in its technical narrative trying to justify its self-score:  “the database was migrated to a modern RDBMS [Relational Database Management System] Oracle database.” Anyone reading that sentence notices that the offeror not only failed to state that it had done the migrating; it also failed to state were the database was migrated from. The Agency downgraded the offeror because “the proposal does not demonstrate the offeror having performed the migration and does not identify the previous operating environment of the CAS database.” GAO concluded that the Agency acted reasonably in downgrading the offeror and denied the offeror’s protest. Up and Running 6K, LLC, B-415716.26, May 29, 2019.

Every writing handbook stresses the use of the active, and not the passive voice. According to The Bedford Handbook for Writers, when a writer uses the passive voice, “the actor frequently disappears from the sentence.” That’s what happened here. Although the way the offeror wrote it would seem to imply that the offeror was the “actor,” the Agency had a good argument that the offeror failed to make that clear. As long as the Agency’s conclusion was reasonable, it wins.

Berenzweig Leonard is teaming up with Red Team Consulting for a monthly newsletter featuring reports on recent contract decisions,  recent upcoming contracts, key protest decisions, events, and more. This post was published in the August 2019 newsletter. To sign up for our govcon newsletters, please click here. 

Terry O’Connor is a Partner at Berenzweig Leonard. Terry and Stephanie Wilson  lead the firm’s Government Contracts practice. Terry can be reached at toconnor@berenzweiglaw.com.