Here’s an all-too-common occurrence: The government issues a Request for Proposals (RFP); companies respond with their proposals; the contracting officer (CO) requests a technical analysis of the proposals to help guide the decision… and the technical report that comes back, in plain terms, stinks.
Sterling Whitehead, a contracting enthusiast who writes his contracting blog All Things Sterling (expressing his own opinions and not necessarily those of his employer) wants to help technical evaluators create better technical reports that will “give contracting officers a leg to stand on: One that’s steel, not wooden.”
To that, he’s enlisting the help of other contracting specialists, technical evaluators and even members of industry, in an experiment in crowdsourcing that he’s calling “Rock Your Tech Report.“
Screenshot of Rock Your Tech Report, which is accepting technical report templates, tips and best practices through Nov. 21, 2011.
The Challenge: Improving Technical Reports
According to Whitehead, contracting officers often complain that the technical reports they get from evaluators aren’t very good. COs depend on technical reports as they make their determinations on everything from the quantity of hours, quality of personnel and amount of travel, to the necessity of equipment in a proposal. A technical report that simply says “Proposal is acceptable” doesn’t help COs, and may indicate that the time-strapped evaluator just didn’t have time to do a thorough evaluation.
The technical background of evaluators isn’t the issue here. Depending on the agency, technical evaluations may be performed by mid-to-senior level team leads who are well-qualified to assess the technical merits of a proposal. The problem is that good engineers don’t necessarily make good writers, especially when the consumer of the report is a CO or auditor who doesn’t have a technical background.
The Federal Acquisition Regulation doesn’t offer much help on the matter. The relevant portion, Subpart 15.404-1(e), Technical Analysis, is composed of three short paragraphs. And while the subject is covered in Contracting Officer Representative (COR) training, there are few examples available for evaluators who simply need some guidance, in the form of a cheat sheet that answers the question: “How do I do a good technical report?”
The Solution: A Crowdsourced Approach
The government is working on longer-term solutions to build the acquisition workforce to help spread the workload and ease the demands on evaluators (who are often performing technical evaluations as second jobs). In the meantime, Whitehead’s approach is a short-term one: Collect technical report templates, as well as tips and best practices, to help populate a library of resources freely available for government technical report evaluators.
Technical reports will vary widely depending on the complexity, size and dollar value of the program involved, so a variety of templates will be needed. Instead of trying to build that library by himself, Whitehead is experimenting with social media to mobilize the contracting and technical communities to collect their expertise to “crowdsource” the creation of that library.
To participate, interested COs, CORs, technical report evaluators can email their report templates and resources (no actual reports, not even redacted ones) to [email protected] from now until Nov. 21, 2011. Submissions will be vetted, and the best and most useful resources will be published to the Rock Your Tech Report site on Dec. 5, 2011.
What Else Can Industry Do?
While Rock Your Tech Report is focused on providing resources for evaluators, companies submitting proposals can take a few steps to make life easier for contracting officers, evaluators and ultimately, themselves.
Whitehead notes that, particularly in sole-source environments, it’s vital to reach out to the person who issues the solicitation to make sure you understand what the requirements are asking for. Then, when crafting your proposals, contractors need to make sure their technical approach is complete. Finally, they should use plain language as much as possible, to ensure that the business advisor can make sense of it.
This has been published on behalf of my managing editor, Joe.