Would you be persuaded to buy from someone who had no plan on how to deal with inevitable problems in executing a project? No?
Onward and upward as we continue our Deadly Sins series!
Sin #15: Never tell me the odds
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Medical Consultation and Support Services IDIQ
Protest Decision Date: April 6, 2021
This competition involved a rather large Firm Fixed Price (FFP) IDIQ covering an incredible array of health services to support “recruitment, retention and workplace wellness” for CBP. Competition for something this large was minimal with only three (3) bidders. DOCS bid and lost, and while their protest centered on a few topics, we’re going to delve into the management aspect of this contract.
One would think that CBP could and would consider DOCS vs. the winner. DOCS didn’t do badly in their evaluation and they were 14% or $18.5 million less than the winner CHS. Sadly, the devil is always in the details. Let’s be mindful of how details can generate a sense of confidence as they are typically indicative of competence vs. broad sweeping claims lacking substance. The tale of two bidders starts by viewing Table 1 below.
|Dentrust Optimized Care Solutions (DOCS)
|Comprehensive Health Services, LLC (CHS)
|Technical and Management Approach
|Small Business Utilization
|Total Proposed Price
Where did this go wrong? At first, these scores indicate a tale of two bidders. One of them provides an “OK” solution and a discounted price. The other provides a robust solution at a premium. This seems pretty clear why one was the winner, right? Here is where it gets to the lesson is to be learned.
It’s important to understand the subtle tone of the evaluation factors used, which is something we’ve observed a few agencies do favoring over other adjectival ratings scales. This is about confidence. It was a lack of confidence that began to unravel the bid from DOCS.
Of course, DOCS protested the confidence ratings in management and other aspects of their evaluation. Might they find CBP’s lack of faith…disturbing? Sith Lord references aside, belief in some mysterious force doesn’t win bids. Details get the job done. Let’s consider where the DOCS bid went awry in the Technical and Management Approach. DOCS managed to earn nine (9) concerns which lowered its confidence score.
Nine?!? We have a bad feeling about this.
CBP had many concerns about the DOCS proposal. However, there was a very distinct theme centered on risk. This concern came to a head during the oral presentation phase of this competition. Note the below excerpt from the protest decision.
For example, the fourth of the five technical problems required offerors to describe one of the biggest challenges it would need to overcome, and how it envisions meeting that challenge. The agency recorded that DOCS did not respond with any detailed methodology to address challenges it may face.
Did CBP think DOCS was “winging it?” When confronted by the evaluators, the DOCS story starts to unravel. Another excerpt from the protest decision summarizes a key underlying concern.
DOCS points to a variety of strategies in its written proposal, and argues that portions of these strategies were discussed in oral presentations, and that these strategies were its proposed methodology for addressing challenges. DOCS also points to its oral presentation slides and argues that the slides both described how it would face challenges and provided examples of how it addressed challenges via its Transition-In plan used in previous contracts.
The agency responds that written portions of DOCS’s proposal raised its confidence in how the firm would address challenges, while the oral presentation caused the agency to have lower confidence in the firm’s ability to deal with challenges. The agency explains that DOCS focused on the entire transition-in phase as a challenge during the oral presentation, and did not articulate how it would deal with challenges within that phase. While the agency’s minutes of the oral presentation note that DOCS articulated several challenges, they also note that DOCS did not provide a methodology for addressing the challenges.
DOCS acknowledged that things go wrong and they could identify what could go wrong. What they couldn’t articulate was HOW they would systematically approach resolving known risks and likely problems. This, among other factors, led to a lower score and CBP awarding to the higher priced bidder.
What is the lesson learned?
Evaluators live in the real world. Sh*t happens. Even though the bidder could identify risks, they had nothing to offer to convince the customer that even when faced with adversity they could quickly and effectively execute problem solving to overcome problems. The customer had no confidence in the bidder being able to resolve problems which equates to risk of performance. This is not an issue with acknowledging that there are risks. This is a problem in which the bidder could not convince the evaluators that they know HOW to deal with and resolve problems without it being a giant mess.
Circling back to the fundamental scoring system based on confidence ratings, this is the kind of weakness that unravels customer confidence and ultimately the win.
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