Why RFIs have short response windows, part 2

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Thanks to reader feedback, here is a fresh take on why agencies might issue sources sought notices with little time for a response.

Last week, I wrote a blog questioning why Veterans Affairs Department's IT office released a request for information with a very small window for industry responses.

I never heard from the VA, but some industry folks responded through LinkedIn and via direct emails to me.

No one objected to my take that the VA had an unspoken reason for releasing that notice on the cusp of Christmas and asking for responses right after New Year.

But as cBEYONData CEO Dyson Richards explained, the reason or reasons of why agencies do that can vary widely.

“The answers are all over the place but generally fall into the following categories or a mixture of them," Richards said.

Here are some potential reasons he offered:

  • The RFI is a means to tell industry that a request for proposals is coming out.
  • Agencies are doing market research but only want responses from serious responders. The short timeline weeds out serial responders.
  • Checking the box. (A common reason cited by others as well.) An agency has a policy that an RFP cannot be issued with an RFI first.
  • The agency is naive about what it takes for a contractor to respond to an RFI -- time, money, reviews, approvals, nights, weekends and so on.
  • Agencies are looking for two legitimate responses from small businesses. Or in the VA’s case a service-disabled, veteran-owned business in order to justify a set-aside decision.
  • Agencies already know who they want. In other words, the bid is wired. With the short response time, they are hoping to get little or no response.

“There are other reasons but these are the main ones in my experience,” Richards said.

He added that he has seen some better approaches, such as an initiative by Soraya Correa when she was the chief procurement officer at the Homeland Security Department. Correa created a roundtable to look at RFIs and why DHS was not getting more responses.

Over six weeks, nine industry representative (three each from large, small and mid-size companies) meet weekly with DHS procurement staff.

“We had many spirited conversations,” Richards said.

The result was a series of recommendations that DHS implemented, including a move to only issue RFIs when they truly needed input from industry. DHS also increased the amount of feedback that was provided to industry after the submission.

“One of our main complaints was that RFI responses typically went into a black hole and we never knew if they were even read or had an impact,” Richards said.

Coincidentally: on the heels of my VA RFI piece I wrote a recap and provided some of my own commentary of a Venable analysis of a new final rule that the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council issued.

That rule was in response to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision to improve how government and industry communicated.

Venable’s take is that the rule did little to clarify that communication, though there is a pledge to continue exploring the issue.

Little doubt exists that there is plenty more to explore.