Steven Maser Authors Study on the Federal Bidding Process
How can the government improve contracting?
Steven Maser, Professor of Public Management and Public Policy, recently authored a study funded by the Acquisition Research Program at the Naval Postgraduate School and distributed for practitioners through the IBM Center for the Business of Government. It evaluated the way government agencies manage the bidding process when they purchase products or services.
What Maser found was eye-opening. In the past few years the number of bid protests, where a rejected bidder complains to the Government Accountability Office, has been on the rise although the total number is small.
This trend does not necessarily mean organizations that won the bidding process will lose the contract. Maser found that in most cases bid protests were not sustained. Of those that were sustained, the original recipient typically retained the contract.
However, bid protests aren’t necessarily bad. Maser argues that they provide an important benchmark. "In general, the system serves a very good purpose of helping the government actually police itself," he said during an interview with Federal News Radio.
“…when [the Government Accountability Office] sustains a protest and everybody else pays attention and says 'Oh, I'd better do it that way,' that's some of the good that comes out of the bid protest system."
The study notes that the more transparency and disclosure that’s built into the process, the less likely a bid protest will occur. It recommends that agencies should simplify the requirements they create for the products and services they need and adequately train staff members who will evaluate proposals.
"One of the findings is that there should be improved and better and more transparent communication from government contracting agencies," Maser explains. For example, when debriefing rejected contractors about ways they could improve their proposals, "You find quite a range from agencies that are divulging the minimal amount they need to divulge to agencies who are extremely forthcoming in working with the business community.”
In the long run this strategic approach to bidding will result in fewer bid protests and a decrease in the associated costs – in both dollars and staff resources – of the responses required to address them. It can also create a more collaborative – as opposed to contentious – process between contractors and government agencies.
Maser, S. (2012). Improving Government Contracting: Lessons from Bid Protests of Department of Defense Source Selections. Washington, DC: IBM Center on the Business of Government.