Bid, proposal, quote technically mean different things but for this article the term “bid” is used to represent all responses to a solicitation
All contract actions start with Market Research (MR).
MR is not to select a firm but rather to determine a set-aside. For example, we can limit competition to just Small Business (SB) or we can further restrict competition to only allow for certain socio-economic programs to compete such as SDVOSB , WOSB, HubZone etc. Whatever set-aside is selected, MR needs to support the decision.
Surely you have heard of the “rule of 2” but in case you haven’t let me remind you. In short, in order to restrict competition to only SB or 1 of the socio-economic programs, the Contracting Officer (KO) needs to have reasonable assurance that 2 or more qualified firms within the same social-economic program (or total SB) will bid on a particular solicitation.
It is usually not enough to search our data bases to find qualified SB. Just because they exist does not mean they are truly qualified and /or interested in the project. One common method to determine interest and qualification is in the form of a Sources Sought (SS). A SS is a simple questionnaire that is specific to the requirement at hand to help the team determine the current market conditions. Based on results, the team can ascertain if there is a reasonable assurance of competition. If no SB responds to the SS, then it can EASILY be argued that SB is simply not interested in this work and thus leading the KO to an unrestricted solicitation.
Note- The SB can still bid on these projects, but they will have to compete with all business regardless of their size
This is why it is so important to respond to SS when you feel that you are qualified and interested in work, we have available.
Arguably one of the most powerful MR tools we have is past bidder history for similar work. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, specifically the Omaha District, has many projects that get repeated every year. The KO can get a real good idea of who is going to bid on the projects based on the history. If the KO has performed this work over the past ten years with the same result that makes for a powerful argument. A typical conversation can go something like this-
Contracting Officer – Hi Small Business Professional, we would like to go unrestricted on this requirement because we do not have a reasonable expectation of competition within the Small Business community let alone any 1 particular socio-economic group.
Small Business Professional (SBP) - That is interesting, because during my market research I found at least 35 million Small Businesses that appear qualified to do the job.
Contracting Officer – Excellent point SBP, but we have no reasonable expectation that these firms are actually going to bid on this project. Over the last 6 years of doing the same contract no Small Business has NEVER bid. This would be a strong indication that while there are Small Businesses capable, they simply are not interested. Bid history is the most accurate predicter of the future
Small Business Professional - When you’re right, you’re right!
We are not suggesting that you bid on everything or things you have absolutely no interest in BUT if the project is within your wheelhouse, we would suggest giving it a shot. That way at least in a year or 2 or 3 the conversation with the KO can go much differently. If SB are continually bidding the argument can be made that they are in fact interested and perhaps at that point we can restrict competition to just SB.