Picking the Right Contractor

Definition: The Advisory Multi-step Process is a presolicitation process that can help define requirements, streamline competition, increase competition, and reduce the likelihood of a protest.

Keywords: advisory multi-step process, down-select, draft RFP, exchanges with industry

MITRE SE Roles & Expectations: In the early planning stages of a major acquisition, MITRE systems engineers (SEs) and acquisition experts are expected to encourage agency program and acquisition managers to build sufficient time into their acquisition strategies to employ the Advisory Multi-step Process in conjunction with Industry Exchanges and draft RFPs. These presolicitation techniques are powerful tools that can help define requirements, streamline competition, increase competition, and reduce the likelihood of a protest. These techniques can be used to increase the probability of a successful source selection.

How the Advisory Multi-step Process Works

The Advisory Multi-step Process is described in the FAR at 15.202 [1]. Generally, in an advisory multi-step process, agencies issue a presolicitation notice inviting potential offerors to submit sufficient information to allow the government to judge whether the offeror could be a viable competitor. The presolicitation notice should identify the information that must be submitted and the criteria that will be used in making the evaluation. Some examples of information include a statement of qualifications, proposed technical concept, past performance, and limited pricing information. The presolicitation notice should contain sufficient information to permit a potential offeror to make an informed decision about whether to participate in the acquisition. Examples include asking for information on specific existing technologies of a maturity to be demonstrable in a laboratory environment, or asking for experience with a new development technique or technology. The information should allow for discrete differentiation between industry respondents that can clearly inform industry of their ability to compete.

The agency must evaluate all responses in accordance with the criteria stated in the notice and must advise each respondent in writing whether it will be invited to participate in the resultant acquisition or, based on the information submitted, that it is unlikely to be a viable competitor. The agency must advise respondents considered not to be viable competitors of the general basis for that opinion. Notwithstanding the results of this initial evaluation, all respondents may participate in the resultant acquisition.

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

A more manageable and efficient source selection process. The Advisory Multi-step Process has been used to produce a more manageable and efficient source selection process; potential offerors learn early in the process that they may not be able to compete effectively. Industry benefits by avoiding expenditure of unnecessary business development resources. Government benefits by avoiding the expenditure of scarce evaluation resources on weak proposals. This technique can be used to make the evaluation process more manageable and streamlined in a situation where an agency is expecting to receive a large number of offers. On the other hand, the technique has also been used successfully to increase competition when a strong incumbent may be discouraging competition.

In both cases, the likelihood of a protest is reduced when there is clear, frequent, and fair communication with industry.

More open communication with industry. A logical follow-on to the Advisory Multi-step Process is to conduct a series of information exchanges with those respondents who have been determined to be viable competitors. Before receipt of proposals, the FAR allows for one-on-one interaction with industry. FAR 15.201(b) states: "The purpose of exchanging information is to improve the understanding of Government requirements and industry capabilities." These one-on-one sessions can be powerful opportunities for open communication. Experience has shown that open forums serve to inform industry, but do not inform the government of industry capabilities. The normal hesitation to ask the important questions in a large forum evaporates in private sessions when competitors are not in the room. Moreover, the benefits to the government from these sessions include better understanding of requirements and an improved solicitation.

A 2007 NCMA World Congress presentation calls exchanges with industry a best practice for the solicitation phase. One of the critical lessons learned on a major civilian agency acquisition concerned exchanges with industry: "The technical exchange ... led to RFP modifications improving the solicitation, and to a better understanding of the Government's requirements [2]."

Changing the competitive environment with a draft RFP. When there is sufficient time in the presolicitation phase of a procurement, agencies should be encouraged to issue draft RFPs as a key attachment to the presolicitation notice issued under the Advisory Multi-step Process. Draft RFPs provide the information needed to help potential respondents make decisions about whether to participate. In addition, draft RFPs inform the industry exchanges described earlier.

Lessons learned from multiple agency procurements indicate that draft RFPs inform industry of the desire for open competition and increase the competitive field, thereby allowing for stronger technical and cost competition and providing clearer direction and requirements for the RFP. Draft RFPs can change the competitive environment of an acquisition, especially when there has been a long-term incumbent.

  • Industry exchanges should be used to help the government communicate more clearly, especially when the requirements are complex.
  • Multi-step techniques can increase technical and cost competition.
  • Multi-step techniques are an effective way to increase competition when there is a strong incumbent.
  • Presolicitation planning has a high payoff for all participants.
  • Increasing communication with industry through presolicitation notices, information exchanges, and draft RFPs makes the acquisition process more transparent and lowers the likelihood of a protest.

References and Resources

  1. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 15.202 Advisory Multi-step Process, effective October 1, 2015.
  2. Zwiselsberger, D., A. Holahan, and J. Latka, April 25, 2007, "Source Selection: Best Practices in Streamlining the Process," NCMA World Congress, April 22–25, 2007.


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