All government service contractors reach a critical crossroad in every project they consider: the Bid/No Bid decision.

Not every Request for Proposal (RFP) is the right fit for your firm, whether your business is large or small. But a small company must be especially selective. Why?

  • You have already pumped significant resources into the capture process.
  • Government contracts often include an extended acquisition timeline.
  • These market realities mean you lack the resources to chase misguided and expensive proposal efforts.

And so you’ve learned to how to say “No!” when you recognize that an opportunity is not a good match. You’ve likely developed a list of factors similar to the one below that point to a No Bid decision:

  • Lack of customer intimacy – Your team has not established a rapport with the potential customer’s team. You’re not familiar with the requirements.
  • The requirements are a poor fit for your team’s core competencies.
  • You are too late to the game – The RFP is already out; you’ve missed industry day.
  • Your competition is well positioned and formidable.
  • Return on investment is poor or risky.
  • Your company lacks the time and resources to develop a strong bid.
  • The contract does not set aside opportunity for small businesses.

But you need to consider other subtle red flags buried within an RFP that can help you avoid wasting precious resources on a bid you are unlikely to win.

Bidder Beware: Know the Signs of Incumbent Workforce Advantage


When you consider a bid, look carefully for signs of a favored incumbent workforce that’s already in place.

When these 3 red flags are waving, consider walking away:

  1. The Statement of Work (SOW) or other pre-solicitation material omits details about how many positions the contract requires.

This usually takes the form of an RFP/SOW that does not clearly state the number, type, and location of how many positions you must bid. If the SOW is unclear, ask questions. Beware if the agency replies that you should decide on staffing requirements based on the SOW.

This signals that a successful and influential incumbent is likely already in place. The government’s lack of transparency gives the incumbent a significant advantage.

Remember that if the government uses a Performance Work Statement (PWS) and offers a Performance Based Contract, the requirement will be expressed as outcomes rather than a specific description of the work and level of effort. Nevertheless, a PWS also signals an incumbent advantage. This is true even though the government is theoretically offering an opportunity for contractor-developed solutions and may be legitimately seeking new and innovative ways to meet agency needs.

  1. The RFP lacks salary guidance for an incumbent workforce.

Does the agency refuse to offer any insights into what it considers a reasonable salary/hourly wage range for each position?

The incumbent knows exactly how much it is paying on each position and how sensitive the workforce is to salary/wage adjustments. Once again, the government’s lack of transparency hands the incumbent a significant advantage.

  1. The RFP includes detailed, selective personnel position descriptions.

Some RFPs contain position descriptions that include excessively detailed requirements for education, years and type of experience, and   service with the contracting agency.

This happens when the agency uses the resumes of incumbent workers to create such specificity in job descriptions that it is very difficult for non-incumbents to qualify.

Government motivation for retaining incumbents is understandable. They have formed personal relationships in the workplace, have a detailed knowledge of the agency, and have worked hard to ensure an agency views them as indispensible.

In fact, the agency may be most interested in keeping incumbent personnel, even under your company’s banner. When you consider a bid, ask questions to help you make this distinction.

Bottom line: Carefully investigate an incumbent situation. You need this key information to make a sound Bid/ No Bid decision.

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