Unofficial Oral Proposal Guide
Presentation Day Set-up
Presentations Per Day
Using the techniques in this guide, you can easily get through two oral proposals a day for most source selections, preferably one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I don’t recommend three or more in a day because it’s just too mentally taxing, especially if you have so many vendors participating that you go for several weeks. The only way I can see more than three a day is if it’s an urgent need.
If you think you have too many vendors, take a harder look at the competitive range determination. Better yet, if while planning your acquisition strategy and reviewing your market research you find you have more than a dozen serious contenders, hone your evaluation criteria even more. Your criteria need to reflect the true discriminators.
Don’t be afraid to remove someone from the competitive range if they really don’t stand a chance of winning. They don’t get a trophy for participation; they get fewer resources to put on development in areas where they can win.
If you remove them from the competitive range, you can always consider putting them back in if they want to burn resources trying to beat ten firms that are better equipped to win. This is a personal philosophy of tough love, but it translates to shorter lead times.
Order of Presentation
To determine the order of the vendor presentations, you can schedule them based on the order in which their chart decks arrived, alphabetically, or randomly. Random generator apps work well and prevent small hiccups related to other methods.
The main thing here is to be as fair as possible. The vendors have sent in their charts on a common due date, but to give them the same amount of time to practice the briefing, you might notify them X days in advance of the presentation time. Be careful here, though, to make sure you’re not sending out a notice on a Saturday morning if the vendor won’t read it until the following Monday morning.
If you are hosting the vendors in a face-to-face setting, plan the presentation area well in advance. Make sure you have a room or facility large enough to hold your entire evaluation team and the vendor’s entire presentation team.
Ideally, the space will be large enough to allow observers, such as colleagues who wish to learn about the oral proposal and evaluation process for their own acquisitions. It’s always an advantage to future teams to witness an oral process before diving into one. If your space for observers is limited, cycle observers through so that each sees at least one presentation. For example, if you have only two seats open for observers and three vendors are presenting, then six observers can attend.
It’s best if you can have the same room or facility for every day of the presentations so that all things are equal, but if you have to switch rooms due to facility scheduling you can’t control, you will need to review each space as suggested below.
The presentation area is usually in your Program Office’s physical space, in a separate source selection facility on a military installation, or at a source selection facility run by industry, a non-profit, or academia. If you or your Program Office is not directly responsible for the area, you will need to visit the presentation location early in your planning so you don’t tell the vendors to do something that is not logistically possible and then have to notify them of a new plan a week before they arrive.
The presentation area should be tested in advance for lights, seating, projectors, projector light bulbs, etc., and for accessibility. If you plan to hold the oral proposals on a military installation, you may have issues getting any and all presenters on the installation in time, even if they have proper credentials. The simplest answer in some cases is to have government escorts bring vendors onto the installation and to the presentation site.
Consider using off-installation facilities such as an innovation hub, a Partnership Intermediary Agreement holder, an Educational Partnership Agreement holder, or some other government partner who might offer free or inexpensive access to presentation space. Be aware, though, that foreign nationals may work in off-installation locations, which may be a concern depending on the sensitivity of your acquisition.
For example, many military installations require affidavits be provided to the visitor’s gate several days prior to a visitor’s arrival. Some vendors have circumvented the affidavit process by using military/civil service retiree ID cards and others have had a local representative with a current ID, retiree ID, or decal escort them onto the installation. In other cases, some states’ driver’s licenses do not qualify as proper forms of identification. The simplest answer in some cases is to have Government escorts bring them onto the installation and to the presentation site.
Ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft offer easy transportation to a military installation but might still not get to a vendor to the right location. A ride-share driver might be allowed to take a visitor onto an installation via the visitor’s gate, provided they take a few minutes to complete paperwork, but not always.
For example, on a recent trip to a military installation, I had proper credentials and an hour of slack planned to get to my meeting, but my Uber driver was foreign-born and had certain markings on his driver’s license that prevented him from passing the gate. Stopping at the visitor’s center didn’t matter because he couldn’t qualify to enter the installation under any circumstances. I could get out and either walk the somewhat long distance in heels or have someone inside the installation pick me up, but my driver could not proceed.
In the examples above, the vendors would likely be late for their presentations without proper credentials or without their driver(s) having proper credentials, which would be dire for their proposals’ acceptance. As with written proposals, it’s critical to show up on time. You must also be aware of oral proposals that contain classified material or presentations that must be held in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). If classified material is to be presented as part of the oral proposals, you may instead choose to have it delivered in writing as a classified annex or some other document. Not briefing this material as part of an oral proposal may or may not be prudent or advantageous, and you’ll need to decide for yourself.
Whether classified material is briefed or provided in writing, the location where it is delivered and stored could still be an issue, but it’s especially important with oral proposals that might contain classified information. Remind your vendors if the presentation facility does not allow classified material or if your team cannot accommodate it.
Set up the presentation room so that vendors aren’t running into each other while entering or exiting the facility or mingling during a break. Ideally, one vendor is leaving through one exit before the next vendor is coming into the area.
You’ll also want to direct your team to take any breaks away from where vendors may be, including snack bars, restrooms, and reception areas. You may even ask your team to use restrooms in another part of the building to prevent interactions between vendors and your evaluation team.
If you do not have interns, administrative support, or volunteers associated with your acquisition to police the area or stand guard, consider asking Security to provide one or two personnel to guard the door or keep wandering vendors from meandering into their rival’s presentation area. Security staff can be both helpful and low-key in these cases.
Remember that the vendors’ proposals are source selection sensitive so it’s important that other visitors, as well as staff in the facility, do not have an opportunity to overhear information.
The government will serve as timekeeper. Often, this is a task given to an intern or an administrative employee, but it should not be considered a trivial job. The vendor may also keep time, but the government will be the official timekeeper.
Occasionally a vendor will ask the government to give them 10-minute and 5-minute warnings. Sometimes presenters will have their own team members give them a signal. The government may offer one or more warnings. Whatever you do, be consistent.
If there’s an interruption for any reason, time is stopped. The timekeeper may give a 5-minute warning, as well as other warnings, to let the vendor know their presentation is almost over and to wrap up the briefing. so they don’t go over and risk some of the proposal not being briefed.
Time may be stopped for a variety of reasons: a fire alarm, an outburst, a sick evaluation team member, or a burnt out projector bulb. The most common reason for a timekeeper to speak up is when a vendor goes over the allotted time for a presentation. In those cases, the timekeeper will need to stop the presenter immediately—or signal the team lead to do so—and anything said after that point will not be considered. In cases where the vendor runs over time and is stopped in mid-chart, legal counsel usually advises that the unaddressed bullets on the chart are disregarded, just as any oral information is unheard or disregarded.
No recording devices are allowed in the room except for the official record, such as a video recording. The oral proposals are considered source selection sensitive, so normal source selection facility sensitivities apply. This means no phones, smart watches, some wearable fitness monitors, or any other electronics that would allow the wearer or owner to capture audio or video from the oral proposal.
Certain medical devices may qualify as electronics and should be gently considered at least at the cursory level in case they have the ability to record audio or video. As of this writing, I’m not aware of any that record audio or video, though they may transmit information to a phone app, such as blood glucose levels.
The most common question I’ve heard on this subject is what to do about diabetic medical devices. This is not a simple matter of leaving an insulin pump in another room for the duration of a presentation or removing a 14-21 day monitor that has a needle inserted in the skin for the duration of the prescription. That leaves the devices 1. Open to tampering, 2. Not doing their jobs, and 3. Being rendered useless by a temporary removal. These are life or death devices, and you need to figure out how to work with your evaluators and vendors to not make their lives harder. As a diabetic myself, I urge you: please don’t take a vendor’s lifeline or make them choose between delivering a proposal and risking a diabetic coma. If they’ve travelled to your site, understand that travelling with diabetes is not easy and can make their blood sugar a little more out of whack than in their normal routines.
I have had multiple Type I and Type II diabetics on my source selection teams, including classified source selections, and after asking a couple of basic questions for my own education, security personnel and I excluded their devices. If your oral proposals may contain classified information, discuss this matter with our security personnel to find out what’s allowable.
For classified briefings, use of electronics will be even stricter. Oral proposals will be memorialized via briefing charts and/or minutes instead of audio or video recording.
If you choose to video record the presentations, even though it’s not required, focus the video camera on the charts being presented rather than on the presenter. The purpose is to capture the audio for future reference if the evaluation team, reviewer, or decision maker needs to verify what was presented in the orals. If you focus on the chart, it will be much easier to find the answer to your question later. Depending on the video equipment, you might also want to track the start and end time on the counter.
You can also place a clock near the charts so that, if the evaluation team hears something questionable, they can mark the time on their worksheets to review later. Do make sure that the clock is visible at all times and that it’s placed where the presenter isn’t standing in front of it.
Although some teams allow the vendor to record the orals in lieu or of in addition to the Government’s recording, it’s best if only the Government records the presentation for several reasons. If the vendor records it, the recording is still source selection sensitive, but the vendor may choose to release it to people who are not cleared to access source selection material. The video may not focus on the charts as much as the Government evaluation team needs. Each vendor will have a different style of recording, so less consistency if reviews are needed. The vendor will surely take the video home for their senior management to review, which might unnecessarily stress the presentation team. Therefore, simplify your source selection by having only one recording of presentations—the Government team—and don’t offer a copy to the vendor. If the award is protested, the video can be reviewed and shared at that point.
In addition, video equipment is easy to locate these days. Your Program Office or the manager of the facility where the presentations are held probably have audio-visual equipment. If not, individuals on the team likely have personal equipment that can be used or equipment can be rented.
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