Contractors are frequently frustrated with agency debriefings. A common complaint is that debriefings generally provide little insight into the agency’s source selection process. The White House is trying to change that. On January 5th, the Acting Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy at OMB issued a memorandum entitled “Myth-busting 3” Further Improving Industry Communications with Effective Debriefings. The memorandum is addressed to Chief Acquisition Officers, Senior Procurement Executives and Chief Information Officers. The memorandum is one in a series of “myth-busting” memorandums addressing efforts to improve communications with industry during the acquisition lifecyle. In this regard, the memorandum identifies a number of “myths” associated with debriefings that may prevent agencies from maximizing the value of debriefings to both agencies and industry.
Two of the myths discussed in the memorandum are of particular interest. One is that debriefings lead to protests. In response to this common misconception, the memorandum states that effective debriefings can reduce the frequency of protests because one of the major reasons contractors file protests is to get more information regarding the evaluation. The memorandum also makes the comment that robust debriefings help instill confidence in contractors that the agency has engaged in a fair source selection process.
Another myth highlighted by the memorandum is that agencies should provide minimal feedback for acquisitions through the Federal Supply Schedules. According to FAR Part 8, the agency is only required to provide a “brief explanation” for the award decision as opposed to FAR Part 15 procurements where various topics must be discussed during a debriefing. The memorandum acknowledges that FSS acquisitions do not require the disclosure of information of the kind required for debriefings related to typical FAR Part 15 procurements, but points out that agencies aren’t precluded from offering more information. The memorandum states a “best practice” in these types of acquisitions would be to provide a “thorough and effective explanation of the basis of the award.” The memorandum notes that NASA, DoD and DHS have policies encouraging agencies to provide more information in these types of debriefings.
The memorandum ultimately recommends that agencies consider establishing or adopting a debriefing guide that sets forth best practices and recommendations for debriefings. The memorandum notes that certain agencies such as DHS, NASA, DoD and the Department of Treasury already have such guidelines.
It will be interesting to see if this memorandum will have any real impact on debriefings in 2017. It may well be that the best way to influence contracting officers is to provide contractors with the memorandum or make them aware of existing guidance already published internally by the agency.