The Unhappy Goldilocks Doctrine

A recurring joke in government contracting is that the government often tells people to stay tuned about something that they're interested in, publishes requests for feedback on a Friday before a three-day weekend, and then wants answers next Tuesday morning. The dark version of the recurring joke is that, on Tuesday, when you submit your response, you get an out of office reply through the end of the week.

Anecdotally, this is pretty common even though everyone understands it's ridiculous!

You can understand the government's motivation, though. Some Senior Executive sets a deadline like "I want this out the door by Labor Day" or whatever, and despite getting a draft done weeks earlier, the RFP has been hung up in internal reviews until someone remembers the Senior Executive's deadline on, like, mid-Thursday afternoon. The contracting officer knows that industry hates having RFPs dropped on a Friday, but a deadline is a deadline and I've got PALT times to consider.

And you can understand why this stinks for a proposal team. You maybe have a planned vacation and a company culture that praises people for using "scheduled sends" on email over the weekend, and now you need to read a bunch of incomprehensible government documents with inconsistent provisions and different fonts indicative of copy-paste errors (see also the government's internal review process). And you're not working alone; you've got your own internal corporate review process that is going to be just miserable.

Here's a recent example from an industry-association executive dunking on the VA for releasing the draft RFP of the T4NG2 re-compete two weeks ago:

What is a little bit off putting about the situation right now, is the VA released the draft RFP on a Friday before a three day weekend. With a seven day calendar day turn around to get comments and questions from industry. So not cool at all. Because really, it amounts to four business days, or really three and a half. At the end of the day, this is a 60 plus billion dollar opportunity.... And it really seems, with such a tight turnaround, that the VA is not particularly interested in industry feedback. And that is, I think, a strategic error on the VA's part.

This is the second time the VA requested a short turnaround on the T4NG2 recompete. It even caught the attention of beltway media the first time.

Not the best look. Then again... you didn't sign up for this newsletters for pile-ons, you signed up for irreverent takes. So, here's mine:

This is actually just fine?

This is a $60 billion dollar IDIQ. Industry has known about it and been talking about it forever. Anyone who's seriously considering bidding T4NG2 already has an approved internal budget and a proposal team set up. Getting the response in before the deadline is almost assuredly the company's top priority right now, so everyone understands that some meetings will get postponed while the team is heads' down.

It isn't even the final solicitation. It's the second set of draft documents and there's an industry day that's coming before the final solicitation drops in February.

If anything, this feels like an example of what I might call the "Unhappy Goldilocks principle". If you're the contracting officer, you know that people (the program! lawyers! the competition advocate! incumbents! challengers!) are going to be unhappy with you no matter what you do, so you're trying to find that sweet spot where the number of unhappy people is "just right".

You've got an ultimate deadline (the end of the fiscal year). You know that, at $60 billion, you're going to be protested. You know that your acquisition plan says "engage industry". You know that, no matter what timeline you put out, the first question from industry will be "can we have more time?" You're not going to get a one-bid at this dollar amount and, anyway, you don't want too many bids because you'll need to vote some vendors off the island and they'll insist you screwed up something (and you probably did!).

So, is this a strategic error on the VA's part? Perhaps. But my bet is that the VA got responses on the first quick turn and then got responses on the second quick turn. If I were on a company's T4NG2 proposal team, I'd be planning to work on Presidents' Day.

Them's the breaks! But think on the bright side: at least you won't have to worry about missing spring break? And you still have at least 3-4 good months to work capture before the end of the fiscal year!

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