Sources Sought Notices: Don’t Just Answer the Mail…treat them like a proposal, or you just might close the door on a business opportunity.

The Government routinely conducts Market Research (MR) on their industrial base; it’s good business for the Government to understand its suppliers and their capabilities for current and future needs.  However, did you know that MR is required by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) prior to conducting a procurement?  Government MR approaches range from passive (no industry involvement) to active (high industry involvement). Passive methods include government personnel conducting keyword searches on the internet or seeking potential vendors using the System for Award Management. Active methods involve sending surveys to their known vendor base, making pre-solicitation announcements via FedBizOps, holding Industry Days, or directly contacting and visiting potential vendors.

By far the most common MR method is to issue a pre-solicitation announcement via FedBizOps.  Typically, a pre-solicitation announcement will take the form of either a Sources Sought Notice (SSN) or a Request for Information (RFI). Name aside, they share the same purpose – to help the Government determine the size of its industrial base, the status of technology development, and/or the level of interest from industry on a specific opportunity.

Industry often regards SSNs and RFIs as routine communication methodologies, sort of a ‘heads-up’ that something may be coming. Under that premise, they fall into the trap of treating SSNs and RFIs as routine and provide perfunctory responses – simply answering the mail so to speak.

And that is a mistake.

SSNs and RFIs have another purpose – one with major implications for Government Contractors. They help the Government determine how, and if, they should set an opportunity aside for ‘other than full and open competition’. In other words, it can sway the decision on making a potential contract a small business set-aside, a socio-economic set-aside, or in extreme cases, a sole-source procurement.

The Government can ask for any information it wants in an SSN / RFI.  This often includes requests for sensitive and/or proprietary data – including a potential offeror’s proposed approach, recommendations on contracting strategies, intention to propose, estimated pricing, ability to meet technical requirements, etc. If the Government issues an SSN / RFI and receives only one valid response, or receives responses that provide minimal answers to their questions, they can determine that there is an insufficient basis to conduct a full and open competition.  This can, in certain instances, lead to a directed, sole-source award.

The take away?  It’s prudent for Government Contractors to always respond to an SSN / RFI for a program of interest, and when doing so, treat the response with the same level of care and effort afforded a proposal. Be persuasive and demonstrate your ingenuity. Make the case for setting it aside for small business (or against setting it aside if you are a large business). If you have one, showcase your proposed solution and not just your capabilities.

Make your SSN/RFI responses count … it can make the difference between having a fair shot, or no shot at all.

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