For those of you like me, that grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, School House Rock commercials were the stuff of legend. It is in that precious three minute window of wisdom that I learned such critical lessons as Conjunction Junction, How a Bill Becomes a Law, and a litany of other sage nuggets. []

Well, in that same spirit of How a Bill Comes a Law, those is business development land have often wondered How a Proposal Becomes an Awarded Contract. Or, rather, how the sausage is made behind the evaluation scenes that transform a proposal response into a winner (or a loser).

Many consider the Technical Evaluation Team (“TET”, also Technical Evaluation Committee) a little black box in which sunlight does not shine. Well, in this three-part series we’ll look inside the black box, and understand what an actual proposal evaluation process looks like from those that are on the insides of the procurement process. We are going to shine sunlight into that little black box and walk you through “How a Proposal Becomes an Awarded Contract” (look out School House Rock)!

Part I: The shape and structure of the Technical Evaluation Team

First off, let me state for the record that this description comes from a dark place of pessimism and angst. I and many of my colleagues have years and years of experience having been on, worked with, or experienced TET’s first hand.  While it may seem overly dark and depressing, the purpose of this discussion is to convey the knowledge necessary to understand the process.  With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it…

If you’ve ever played kickball in the schoolyard, you are familiar with the process of picking a team. Unlike in kickball, however, most of the professionals picked for this team (Go Team “TET”) are not overly excited. See, the TET is comprised of public sector professionals from a given agency (i.e. stakeholders) and they are typically subject matter experts in the field associated with the TET. They all have day jobs, so to speak. Therefore, it probably comes as no surprise to hear that their inclusion in a TET is rarely received with glitter and streamers. Think of it as Procurement Jury Duty.

So, individuals are picked to participate in the TET, often against their strongest desires. However, unlike the 12 jurors that get to sit next to each other in a cozy jury box, the members of the TET are often dispersed across the agency and often across country.  As such, they routinely communicate via phone, email, and video conference.  In some instances, once the TET has gone through the initiate review and downsection process (more on that in Part II), the Contracting Officers Representative (the soul that has actual eyes on the performance of the contract) travels to meet with the Contracting Officer (CO or KO), who is the actual individual who has authorization (via a “warrant”) to obligate the Federal government by way of a contract with an offeror.  That meeting represents that last element of the TET prior to award.  

Part II: Evaluation Instructions, Evaluation Checklists and More

Given that the TET is often a group of people, all wanting to be somewhere else, dispersed across multiple locations, a collection of simple tools are utilize to streamline the process. The two (2) main ingredients of the TET stew are the (a) Evaluation Instructions and the corresponding (b) Evaluation Checklist.  

Evaluation Instructions

Lacking creativity, the Evaluation Instructions are as exciting as it sounds: it is the guidance, as proffered by the procurement authority (i.e. legal and compliance professionals inside the procuring agency) and the CO, on the method of evaluating the proposal submissions. In most cases, the TET is separate from the Price or Business evaluation panel. However, the Price/Business evaluation process is a mirror image of the TET. Anyway, back to the Evaluation Instructions…

The Evaluation Instructions define the method of the evaluation process, the nature of the procurement (Best Value, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable, etc…) and such. The instructions are designed to make sure the rationale and method of the evaluation are consistent across the TET.

Evaluation Checklist

Armed with the instructions, the TET member is provided a “Checklist” that guides that actual evaluation of the offeror’s material.  Each and every TET member has both the instructions and the “Checklist” and has training (usually minimal) that guides them on how to utilize the checklist to score the submissions.  The TET member then reviews/reads each proposal, absent from feedback from any other member of TET, and records the “score” of each evaluated area on the TET-provided checklist. 

Part III: The Reality of the TET

Those scoring checklists are then collected by the CO, tallied, and offerors are ranked according to evaluation criteria and overall scoring.  With that said keep in mind that TET-members may or may not know who the other TET-members are and, moreover, the TET-members likely represent a diverse collection of evaluators that often have varying perspective on the scope of the contract, the industry, and the assortment of offerors.  Also, note that the TET will rarely go outside the context of a submission and utilize public-source data to aid in the evaluation of a proposal. Again, these people are busy and – for the most part – want out of the TET process just like everyone wants out of jury duty. Going outside the confines of the submitted bid, while fully within the scope and rights of the evaluation, is as probable as finding Jimmy Hoffa.  I am sure I am going to get flack on this one but my experience suggests that this is the reality.  Hence, if there is bad press or public evidence that you believe will impact the evaluation of a competitor, think again.

Keep in mind that the TET-members, with the exception of the COR, are often not privy to the realities of the day-to-day operating environment of the contract. Therefore, never assume that because “the customer loves us” that the TET-members are the same as the actual “customers” at the site level. If I had a nickel for every time an award was made to a contractor that the local contract stakeholder did not want, or that the site level folks were in shock that an incumbent, a well-liked incumbent at that was replaced, I would be able to have a fleet of Aston Martins.

As an additional component of the scoring process, each TET-member is encouraged to keep notes during the review. These notes are often utilized in communicating the “strengths and weaknesses” discussion that often takes place in debrief calls and notices. 

In closing, I implore you to simply Google “technical evaluation” and “scoring checklist” and buckle up for some serious insight.  Knowing the process, understanding the review team dynamics, and recognizing that the evaluation team may include procurement stakeholders that are different from site level stakeholder will allow you to frame a proposal response that is precise, or target, and focused on the evaluation criteria.

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