Unofficial Oral Proposal Guide
What Can You Use Oral Proposals for?
The beauty of oral proposals is that you can adapt them to most acquisitions, whether sole source or competitive. In either case, you can save significant procurement lead time using the techniques in this guide. I’ve told government buying offices I’ve led that they should use oral proposals as a default, with Contracting Officers and buyers asking themselves why they should get written proposals, especially on a source selection of any size, because oral proposals can be so effective at streamlining the process and providing good outcomes for the end user.
You can use oral proposals for acquisitions of all sizes and complexities, though they work better for some types than others. Don’t let oral proposals become your Innovation Bingo Free Space of the Day and don’t mandate to your underlings that they will use oral proposals to save time. The best innovative contracting tools are never mandated but instead are applied as appropriate to your acquisition strategy, requirement, and team—only then do they help you get there faster.
You can use oral proposals for any size acquisition. I’ve personally used this technique on numerous acquisitions, from an approximately $8K quick-turn sole source, to a $1M sole source where the vendor was on the grounds during an emergency and was asked to deliver his technical proposal orally with no preparation and with a cost proposal follow-up, to an approximately $500M high-visibility source selection. Others I’ve trained have used this technique for source selections in the billion-dollar range and up. Dollar size is not a consideration, though the visibility that comes with large dollars might drive risk intolerance from your upper leadership and from your clearance reviewers. My point is, you can use oral proposals for any size acquisition.
Before adding oral proposals to your acquisition strategy, consider whether they are appropriate to your acquisition. The more vital it is for a vendor to explain how they’re going to perform, the better this tool tends to be. The best use of oral proposals I’ve seen has been to acquire research, development, and services, including IT.
They are less useful for production contracts. If you need an extra 200 missiles on your contract, you will probably need additional cost information and maybe a page or two of written text, so oral proposals don’t hold a big advantage over that.
For supplies, such as ones purchased under 10 USC 2373, Procurement for Experimental Purposes, there’s really no benefit to oral proposals. In those cases, a brief written cost proposal and a one-page technical description—if that much—is probably all that’s needed and is even less time-consuming than oral proposals, unless perhaps you’re powering through an emergency action. Oral proposals work well for simple acquisitions, but sometimes written delivery is faster if the contract action is extremely simple.
If your agency is acquiring R&D study efforts under a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), especially in the $50K to $3M range, oral proposals are super easy and fast. Leveraging oral proposals could reduce lead time from any study contract under a BAA by 60 days, if not more. It’s easy to add oral proposal instruction language to general BAAs as a place holder so you have that option. If you already have a BAA on the street, it’s simple to amend to take advantage of a faster method. See the samples in the Instructions to Offerors section of this guide for examples of how to include oral proposals in a BAA.
For very complex acquisitions, orals might not be the right choice. The problem here is that the complexity of what’s really needed to get to the best contractor is often overrated. Everyone thinks their acquisition is hard and complex, but even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean oral proposals won’t work. Oral proposals lose their speed when complexity is added to the instructions and evaluation criteria. So do written proposals, for that matter. Complex programs can still benefit from oral proposals as long as extraneous layers of go-do’s and judgments aren’t levied on the solicitation and evaluation process.
When we talk about what to use oral proposals for, we are usually thinking of contracts; however, they may also be used for non-FAR-based vehicles, such as Other Transaction agreements. You can also incorporate oral proposal procedures into task order or delivery order contracts to further simplify the ordering process, but remember that the wording for IDIQs will be a little different under FAR Part 16.5 procedures than under FAR Part 15.3 procedures. Source selections under Part 16 are more streamlined, so don’t try to make it look like a Part 15 source selection.
Use of oral proposals and “pitch days” have become increasingly popular since early 2018. Procurement innovation centers such as AFWERX and DIU incorporate oral proposals or some form of oral proposal as a streamlined methodology for acquiring innovative commercial services or emerging technologies. For example, AFWERX hosts pitch days in conjunction with their Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) topics and DIU initiated Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) procedures that include oral proposals.
Although this guide is primarily intended for buying offices that don’t typically use oral proposals or don’t have extensive experience with them, innovation centers may find it helpful as well.
NOTE: Because this method can be used for both FAR-based and non-FAR-based acquisitions, I use the term vendors in this guide rather than contractors or offerors.
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