By: Michael H. Payne
Government contractors frequently use incorrect terminology to describe a solicitation. For example, clients often call me and ask why they were not awarded a contract even though they had submitted the lowest bid. The first thing that I ask is whether the solicitation was a Request for Proposals ("RFP"), or an Invitation for Bid ("IFB"). If it was an RFP, the award was probably based on best value and the lowest-priced proposal would not necessarily receive the award. If the solicitation was an IFB, there would be more of a question about why an award was not made to the lowest-priced bidder. Of course, even in sealed bidding the lowest bidder must also be responsive and responsible in order to receive an award, so there can be a valid reason as to why the lowest bidder did not receive the award.
The best way to show that you understand the basics of the federal procurement process is to remember that responses to an IFB (sealed bid solicitation) are referred to as "bids," and responses to an RFP (negotiated procurement) are referred to as "proposals" or "offers." In other words, the proper terms under an IFB are "bid," "bidder," and "sealed bid," and the proper terms under an RFP are "proposal," "offer," and "offeror." Your lawyer will become very confused if you mix these terms by saying, for example, "I just submitted a bid on an RFP." Sometimes, the only way that I can figure out what my client is talking about is to ask for the solicitation number (the "R" or the "B" in the middle will be a dead giveaway), or I may simply ask my client to send me a copy of the solicitation.
Of course, government procurement personnel frequently add to the confusion. RPPs are often referred to as "negotiated procurements" even though there usually are no negotiations (or "discussions"), and contracting officers often refer to both bids and proposals as "bids," To make matters worse, the GAO and the courts refer to protests of either an IFB or an RFP as "bid protests." No wonder there is so much confusion.
Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm’s Federal Practice Group and, together with other experienced members of the group, frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters, including teaming arrangements, negotiated procurements, bid protests, claims, and appeals.