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Usually with RFP's comes a question and answer period where prospective Offerors may ask questions with regard to the RFP and receive answers back from the Gov't. What if no time period for Q&A expressly exists within the RFP under a DoD Commercial Acquisition?  I researched FAR 52.212-1 Instructions to Offerors (which is in the RFP) and did not find any standard language that addresses such.

Is the Q&A period right up to the very end of the submission time if not indicated otherwise in a DoD Commercial Acquisition (SF1449)?

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2 hours ago, Guest108830 said:

Usually with RFP's comes a question and answer period where prospective Offerors may ask questions with regard to the RFP and receive answers back from the Gov't. What if no time period for Q&A expressly exists within the RFP under a DoD Commercial Acquisition?  I researched FAR 52.212-1 Instructions to Offerors (which is in the RFP) and did not find any standard language that addresses such.

There is no FAR requirement for any Q&A period for any solicitation, commercial or otherwise.  Really, a prospective offeror may ask a question at any time before proposals are due.  The Government has no obligation to answer the question to the questioner's satisfaction, or at all.  But since allowing for questions will hopefully result in better proposals (such as by raising ambiguities or inconsistencies that the contracting officer really should address), many contracting officers are willing to answer questions.  Some contracting officers try to formalize the question-asking process; others are more informal.

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Identify and ask your questions early. As @ji20874stated, It can lead to the government defining its need better (better proposals). This helps everyone.

In construction, I formalize the Q&A period because some contractors will send them in constantly. There are some assumptions that have to be made. With that said, I have also seen questions lead to some pretty substantial redesigns of poor drawings. 

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1 hour ago, Constricting Officer said:

Identify and ask your questions early. As @ji20874stated, It can lead to the government defining its need better (better proposals). This helps everyone.

In construction, I formalize the Q&A period because some contractors will send them in constantly. There are some assumptions that have to be made. With that said, I have also seen questions lead to some pretty substantial redesigns of poor drawings. 

I hope that you aren’t using commercial acquisition methods for DoD (or for non-DoD for that matter) construction contracting. 

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2 hours ago, ji20874 said:

The Government has no obligation to answer the question to the questioner's satisfaction, or at all. 

That is not correct. See FAR 5.102(c):

Quote

(c) In addition to the methods of disseminating proposed contract information in 5.101(a) and (b), provide, upon request to small business concerns, as required by 15 U.S.C.637(b)-

           (1) A copy of the solicitation and specifications. In the case of solicitations disseminated by electronic data interchange, solicitations may be furnished directly to the electronic address of the small business concern;

           (2) The name and telephone number of an employee of the contracting office who will answer questions on the solicitation ; and

           (3) Adequate citations to each applicable major Federal law or agency rule with which small business concerns must comply in performing the contract.

Emphasis added. That is what FAR says, but good luck getting an answer to a question over the telephone.

Also, the GAO has said that it will sustain a protest that an agency failed to answer questions if the protester can show that the solicitation is inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous. See Pathfinder Consultants, LLC, GAO B-419509, March 15, 2021.

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See also FAR 19.202-4(c):

Quote

Provide to any small business concern, upon its request, a copy of solicitations with respect to any contract to be let, the name and telephone number of an agency contact to answer questions related to such prospective contract and adequate citations to each major Federal law or agency rule with which such business concern must comply in performing such contract other than laws or agency rules with which the small business must comply when doing business with other than the Government.

Emphasis added.

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Re:  FAR 5.102(c).  I can learn something new almost every day!  It is interesting that that this availability to answer questions applies only to small businesses, and is included in the synopsis rather than in the solicitation itself.  This requirement would only to solicitations for which synopsis is required, and not to all solicitations.

Still, there is no requirement to answer the question to the questioner's satisfaction, which is what I said, and there no requirement that every question be answered, which is what I said.  For example, if a solicitation has been on the street, so to speak, for 29 days and proposals are due tomorrow, and the contracting officer receives a question today, there is no duty of the contracting officer to extend the date for receipt of proposals until after that specific question has been answered.  The cited GAO case doesn't require that every question be answered -- it only affirms that the GAO "will sustain a protest that an agency failed to answer questions if the protester can show that the solicitation is inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous."

So I wasn't so wrong after all.  But I appreciate the discussion.

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What you said was:

3 hours ago, ji20874 said:

The Government has no obligation to answer the question to the questioner's satisfaction, or at all. 

Emphasis added. That's wrong.

24 minutes ago, ji20874 said:

So I wasn't so wrong after all.

That's wrong, too, Professor Inman.

 

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1 hour ago, Vern Edwards said:

What you said was:

Emphasis added. That's wrong.

That's wrong, too, Professor Inman.

 

Yes, but that's just what he wrote--it's not what he meant. If you consider what he meant to say, then he's not wrong. Get it?

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Well, Vern, we may differ.

A contracting officer generally should try to answer reasonable and timely questions after release of a solicitation and before receipt of proposals, but there is no universal requirement or rule that he or she must do so.  For example, he or she might provide the answer after receipt of proposals, either through solicitation amendment or through discussions.  Or, he or she might not provide any answer at all.  It all depends on the nature of the question and the facts of the solicitation.  The case you cited does not create a rule that a contracting officer has an obligation to answer questions; rather, that case merely affirms that the GAO "will only sustain a protest challenging an agency’s failure to respond to questions where the protester demonstrates that the solicitation is otherwise inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous."

Answering reasonable and timely questions is a good business practice, and providing answers that are needed to overcome an inadequate unclear, or ambiguous solicitation is certainly a good idea.  But not all questions are reasonable and timely.  A contracting officer is not required to extend the proposal due date until all the questions are answered.  Contracting officers should exercise good judgment in answering questions, and balance the desire to answer questions with other demands on the acquisition.  I prefer to think of the which, when, how, and so forth of answering solicitation questions as a matter of practice than one of rules. 

Here's the pertinent text from the case you cited--

Quote

Second, Pathfinder’s allegation that the VA failed to respond to the firm’s pre-proposal questions does not provide us with a basis to sustain the protest. We will only sustain a protest challenging an agency’s failure to respond to questions where the protester demonstrates that the solicitation is otherwise inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous. H.G. Properties A, L.P., B-280652, Nov. 2, 1998, 98-2 CPD ¶ 104 at 5. In this way, a protester complaining that the agency did not respond to pre-proposal questions must show that the solicitation lacked sufficient clarity to permit competition on an intelligent and equal basis. Id.

Note that the burden is on the protester to "demonstrate[] that the solicitation is otherwise inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous" or to "show that the solicitation lacked sufficient clarity to permit competition on an intelligent and equal basis."  The burden is not on the contracting officer to answer any or all questions.  In this case, Pathfinder asked 49 questions, and the contracting officer answered 7 of them.  Pathfinder protested about not getting answers, and Pathfinder lost the protest.  The contracting officer was not at fault for not answering the questions.  The contracting officer determined that Pathfinder "was not entitled to an answer for every pre-proposal question submitted."  Again, the protester lost the protest.

I resist turning everything into rules, or asserting rules where rules don't exist.  I am hopeful that contracting officers can tell gray from black, and can use common sense, and can use professional discretion.  Others see things differently.

Regards,

Professor Inman

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"We may differ."

😊

@ji20874John, you gave a hasty answer to a question and I caught you out. Your answer was factually incorrect.

Why can't you just shrug and say, "Oops! I missed FAR 5.102(c) and 19.202-4(c)" and let it go at that?

If you had devoted even half as much time to your first answer as you did to your post above, it probably would have been fine. Instead, you lecture me at length about what I learned in the 1970s and what I already pointed out from the FAR and a case that I cited for all to read. I did not say what COs had to do. I did not say that they had to answer every question they receive. I just quoted the FAR and cited the GAO, which you might have done before your first post.

In future, think before you post. Take the time to do a little checking. You have a lot to contribute, and your contributions would be better if you would just take the time to research and craft more thoughtful and thorough answers. Everyone would benefit, including you.

You're a "professor of practice," right? Well, profess more thoughtfully. Otherwise, why bother?

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14 hours ago, joel hoffman said:

I hope that you aren’t using commercial acquisition methods for DoD (or for non-DoD for that matter) construction contracting. 

Nope - just giving an example for Q&A options. The topic extends to both commercial and non-commercial acquisitions. 

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8 hours ago, Constricting Officer said:

Nope - just giving an example for Q&A options. The topic extends to both commercial and non-commercial acquisitions. 

Actually, the topic is entitled “Time Period for Q&A under DoD Commercial Acquisition

When construction was referenced, I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any confusion about whether or not DoD construction may use commercial acquisition procedures. 

On 3/2/2022 at 11:31 AM, Guest108830 said:

…What if no time period for Q&A expressly exists within the RFP under a DoD Commercial Acquisition?  I researched FAR 52.212-1 Instructions to Offerors (which is in the RFP) and did not find any standard language that addresses such.

The question specifically addressed a situation where the commercial solicitation didn’t state a time frame for submitting questions. The question didn’t specify whether it was for products or services, which doesn’t matter.

The GAO Decision that Vern cited (Pathfinder Consultants, LLC, GAO B-419509, March 15, 2021)  was for a VA solicitation for “communications strategies and support services under the commercial item acquisition procedures set forth in Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) parts 12 and 15.”

Actually, the solicitation did state a date by which questions must be asked:

”Pre-proposal questions regarding the solicitation’s terms were to be submitted to both the contract specialist and the contracting officer by December 23, 2020.  AR, Tab 4B, Combined Synopsis/Solicitation at 3.  The RFP specified that the ‘Government shall coordinate a response.’ ” 

The proposer submitted its initial list of 49 questions one day prior to the stated date. The Government provided its response on December 29.

On January 5, 2021, Pathfinder submitted three additional questions.  Protest at 3.  On January 6, the agency provided answers in a second amendment.  Id.  On January 7, Pathfinder filed this protest with our Office.  The solicitation closed on January 8.”

The Decision didn’t discuss the lateness of the three additional questions, because that wasn’t an issue; the government provided answers the next day.   
 

Although the decision did address whether a protest would be upheld or not for answers or no answers, I’m not sure that the initial questions were specifically addressed. 

On 3/2/2022 at 11:31 AM, Guest108830 said:

Is the Q&A period right up to the very end of the submission time if not indicated otherwise in a DoD Commercial Acquisition (SF1449)?

The FAR references do provide for identifying contact points so that small business prospective offerors can ask questions.

My advice would be, if the government doesn’t establish a cutoff date for submitting questions, then it should answer questions submitted prior to the closing date for proposal submission, if it is apparent that  “the solicitation is otherwise inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous” and that “the solicitation lack[s] sufficient clarity to permit competition on an intelligent and equal basis.”

If doing so will require reasonable additional time for preparing and submitting proposals, the government should extend the solicitation closing date. 

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56 minutes ago, joel hoffman said:

My advice would be, if the government doesn’t establish a cutoff date for submitting questions, then it should answer questions submitted prior to the closing date for submission, if it is apparent that  “the solicitation is otherwise inadequate, unclear, or ambiguous” and that “the solicitation lack[s] sufficient clarity to permit competition on an intelligent and equal basis.”

If doing so will require reasonable additional time for preparing and submitting proposals, the government should extend the solicitation closing date. 

Excellent advice. It is interesting that FAR Part 14 addresses that matter (somewhat) at 14.208(c). So did FAR Part 15 prior to the 1997 Part 15 Rewrite.

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