When a government agency needs complex goods or services, it will typically issue a solicitation to vendors called a Request for Proposals (RFP). Your company’s response to this solicitation is called a proposal.

Don’t confuse a proposal with a bid. Bids are designed for less complex goods and services. They involve simply providing qualifying information and a price for the requested goods or services. In most cases, bids are scored only on price. Therefore, if you qualify and have the lowest priced bid, your company will win the contract.

Proposals, on the other hand, are scored on a number of criteria. These values are often qualitative, not quantitative, so a team of experts is put together by the government agency to evaluate incoming proposals.

Government agencies use the RFP to detail their specific requirements.  The process is designed to be fair and open so that all companies have an opportunity to compete in the arena.

Many companies make the mistake of thinking their contacts or previous work with a government agency make them shoe-ins for for follow-up contracts and work. While a stellar reputation is helpful, during the proposal process evaluators are ONLY allowed to score what you have included in your formal proposal. For this reason, it is imperative that you closely review the RFP and respond to EVERYTHING requested and scored within the RFP. Your relationship with a project engineer won’t make up for missing information in a proposal.

This proposal and evaluation process is used by all areas of government, i.e., local, state and federal.  Inside and outside government, you can expect a formal process for any large contract.  Important points to note about government solicitations include:

  • Governments request competitive proposals to control costs and risks.  The most important concerns are price, quality and delivery.

  • Government proposals are written in response to specific Requests for Proposals (RFPs). The RFPs specify the government’s requirements for the product or service it needs.

  • While certain terms may be negotiated after initial award of the contract, it is important to realize your proposal, in conjunction with the RFP, becomes a legal contract. It is imperative you understand ALL of the terms and conditions to which you are agreeing when you submit a proposal. Any questions should be submitted to your attorney and addressed during the Q&A or protest period identified within the RFP.

  • Each state and local agency will have its own set of laws and rules it must follow during the solicitation process. Those regulations are laid out in the RFP.

    • If funds from another agency are used in a sate or local project, those regulations will also be incorporated into the RFP. For example:

      • If a federal agency provides funding for a state road construction project, the state must follow both state regulations and federal regulations when hiring a contractor.

  • Federal proposals in the U.S. are governed by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). There is a subset of rules for defense and military agencies called the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS).

    • The requirements in FAR dictate the format of Federal RFPs. For example:

      • How the proposal should be prepared is detailed in Section L in the RFP.

      • What criteria proposal will be evaluated is in Section M.

      • States and local governments also provide requirements for proposal preparation and evaluation criteria in their RFPs, but it varies from agency to agency.

Sections in a Federal Government Proposal

  • The Requirements Matrix is the table you use to identify to the requesting agency that you have met their proposal requirements and where your responses to those requirements are located within your proposal.

  • The Executive Summary is a synopsis that tells the agency the reasons why they should buy from your company. This is your first impression. Keep it short, like a brochure, but use it to take the opportunity to identify why your company is the right one to meet the agency’s needs.

  • The Technical and Management portions of the proposal are delineated by each proposal requirement and/or scoring criteria. Each section is a narrative of how your company meets each need and a discussion of how you will manage the contract once it is awarded. Remember to keep the focus on the client’s needs.

  • Cost Volume includes a presentation of all costs, including the cost basis (e.g., how labor rates were calculated), implementation plan, and implementation schedule. The RFP will identify certain requirements, such as whether you are proposing on a cost-plus or fixed-price basis, certain types of costs that may be disallowed, and whether or not subcontractors on the project must follow those same regulations.

  • Past Performance/Relevant Experience Volume documentation details performance on past contracts of similar size and scope. For this, you will be required to obtain positive reviews from clients on past projects. In addition, you will often need to provide resumes of key people you plan to use on the project in a specified format. For this reason, it is a good idea to have your Personnel Department request updated resumes from project staff on a regular basis, including key personnel from regularly used subcontractors.

  • Most government proposals require a quality assurance plan. The government agency will have quality assurance experts reviewing and scoring this portion of your proposal, so it is imperative that you understand the latest quality assurance standards for your industry, such as AS9100, and incorporate them into your proposal.

Government proposals must always be produced to be responsive to detailed requirements.  They can be extremely lengthy and detailed because they must both solve specific project requirements and meet the appropriate laws for distributing public funds.

To be competitive, the proposing vendors have to expertly differentiate their products or services from their competitors.  Proposals can range from a few pages for a simple solicitation up to thousands of pages!

Producing government proposals are expensive due to the detailed requirements, including necessary cost analysis and scheduling information. The cost of producing a successful government proposal is typically in the range of 0.5% to 2% of the initial contract value.

If your company has never successfully won an award, or if there is increased competition in your field, hiring a proposal company, such as Allied Proposal & Contract Management, to manage and train your internal experts can be the key advantage you need to get that contract!