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Contract Debriefings


Alternate Definition

A debriefing is a means of informing offerors of the basis of the source selection decision and contract award. Debriefings provide offerors in a competitive solicitation an explanation of the evaluation process, an assessment of their proposal in relation to the evaluation criteria, a general understanding of the basis of the award decision, and the rationale for their exclusion from the competition.

General Information

Debriefings are different from notifications to unsuccessful offerors. The contracting officer must notify the offerors promptly in writing when their proposals are excluded from the competitive range or otherwise eliminated from the competition. (See FAR 15.503 for detailed coverage of notifications.) While these debriefings may be conducted verbally, in writing, or by any other method acceptable to the contracting officer, the Department of Defense (DoD) Source Selection Procedures state that whenever practicable, the debriefing should be conducted in person or face-to-face. (See DoD Source Selection Procedures 3.11.)

Debriefings instill confidence in the contracting process by affirming that proposals were treated fairly and were evaluated in accordance with the Request for Proposal (RFP). This assurance will lead to increased competition on future efforts as offeror will continue to invest resources in the Government marketplace.  The transparency provided in a debriefing enhances the Government and industry relationship.  Perhaps the most beneficial purpose of a debriefing for the offeror is the feedback on why their proposal was not selected for award and how they could improve future proposal submissions.  Debriefings should be a win-win proposition and not adversarial.  

There are two major types of debriefings-- preaward debriefings and postaward debriefings. Each offeror is entitled to no more than one debriefing for each proposal.

Preaward Debriefings

An offeror may request a preaward debriefing by submitting a written request to the contracting officer within three days after receipt of the notice of exclusion from the competition. At the offeror’s request, the preaward debriefing may be delayed until after the award is announced. If delayed, it must include all of the information normally provided in a postaward debriefing. If the offeror does not submit a timely request, the contracting officer does not have to conduct either a preaward or postaward debriefing for that offeror.

In accordance with FAR 15.505(b), the contracting officer shall make every effort to debrief the unsuccessful offeror as soon as practicable, but may refuse the request for a preaward debriefing if, for compelling reasons, it is not in the best interests of the Government to conduct a debriefing at that time. The rationale for delaying the debriefing shall be documented in the contract file. For example, if an offeror was excluded from a competitive range, was notified by the contracting officer on 24 September, and requested a preaward debriefing on 26 September, the contracting officer might be pressed for time as they are attempting to award no later than 30 September due to expiring funds.  In this case, the contracting officer may refuse the request for a preaward debriefing and provide the excluded offeror with a postaward debriefing.

In accordance with FAR 15.505(e), at a minimum, preaward debriefings shall include:

  1. The agency’s evaluation of significant elements in the offeror’s proposal;
  2. A summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competition; and
  3. Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed in the process of eliminating the offeror from the competition.

However, preaward debriefings must not disclose:

  1. The number of offerors;
  2. The identity of other offerors;
  3. The content of other offerors’ proposals;
  4. The ranking of other offerors;
  5. The evaluation of other offerors; or
  6. Any of the information prohibited in FAR 15.506(e)

Postaward Debriefings

An offeror’s request for a postaward debriefing must be received by the agency within three days after the date on which that offeror received notification of the contract award. To the maximum extent practicable, the debriefing should occur within five days after receipt of the written request. Offerors that requested a postaward debriefing instead of a preaward debriefing, or whose debriefing was delayed for compelling reasons beyond contract award, should also be debriefed within this time period. Untimely requests for a debriefing may be accommodated; however, this accommodation does not automatically extend the deadlines for filing protests. 

At a minimum, the postaward debriefing shall include:

  1. The Government’s evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror’s proposal, if applicable
  2. The overall evaluated cost or price and technical rating, if applicable, of the successful offeror and the debriefed offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror;
  3. The overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection;
  4. A summary of the rationale for award;
  5. For acquisitions of commercial items, the make and model of the item to be delivered by the successful offeror; and
  6. Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations and other applicable authorities were followed.

The postaward debriefing shall not include point-by-point comparisons of the debriefed offeror’s proposal with those of other offerors, and shall not reveal any information prohibited from disclosure by FAR 24.202 or exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552), including:

  1. Trade secrets;
  2. Privileged or confidential manufacturing processes and techniques;
  3. Commercial and financial information that is privileged or confidential, including cost breakdowns, profit, indirect cost rates, and similar information; and
  4. The names of individuals providing reference information about an offeror’s past performance.

An official summary of preaward and postaward debriefings must be included in the contract file.

Enhanced Postaward Debriefing Rights

Class Deviation (CD) 2018-O0011, issued on March 22, 2018, provides enhanced postaward debriefing rights for unsuccessful offerors.  This class deviation states unsuccessful offerors shall be given the opportunity to submit additional questions related to the debriefing within two business days after receiving the debriefing.  For example, if a debriefing is conducted on Tuesday, the unsuccessful offeror would have until close of business Thursday to submit any additional questions.  Once those questions are received, the agency shall respond in writing to the additional questions within five business days after receipt of the questions.  Using our previous example, if additional questions were received on Thursday, the agency would have until the following Thursday to provide a written response.  The postaward debriefing is not considered concluded until the agency delivers its written responses to the unsuccessful offeror.  It is important to note that the written response should state “This concludes your debriefing.”

Source Selection Decision Document

You should also note the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act stipulates a written or oral debriefing is required for contract awards or task order awards with a value greater than $10 million.  If the company receiving the debriefing is a small business or nontraditional defense contractor, the company is entitled (upon request) to an appropriately redacted copy of the source selection decision document. When a debriefing is conducted for a contract award or task order award with a value greater than $100 million, then, as part of the debriefing, all companies receiving debriefings must be provided an appropriately redacted copy of the source selection decision document. 

Debriefing Tips

  • Be sure to document when an offeror receives notification of being excluded from the competitive range or is otherwise notified as an unsuccessful offeror.
  • Use source selection documents and evaluation reports to form the basis for creating your debriefing material.
  • If a timely written request is received for a required debriefing, prepare to provide the debriefing immediately, but within five days of receiving the request.
  • Obtain a list of who will be attending on behalf of the unsuccessful offeror, and elicit specific questions they wish addressed at the scheduled debriefing.
  • Ensure your responses to the offeror’s questions correspond to the areas evaluated during the source selection process.
  • Prepare for the debriefing.  It is recommended the contracting officer practice the debriefing with their peers before conducting the debriefing.

One Final Thought

In a source selection, you have a plan, evaluate to the plan, document to the plan and debrief to the plan!  

To see a "mock" post award debriefing, check out this video: