Advisory Down Select Best Practices for Government and Industry

Use of Advisory Down Select Coupled with On-The-Spot Orals as a Best Practice  

Having supported Federal agencies for years in the acquisition space I am quite comfortable saying I feel the Government’s pain in wading through numerous lengthy written proposals, along with the arduous process of documenting the evaluation, only to find oneself defending the award decision before the Government Accountability Office (GAO). For the record, industry does not much like writing what amounts to a tome for a proposal response or filing a protest—that costs money, takes time to prepare, and is a distraction from the company’s real goal of providing goods and services to the Government. The question is can we get to a better place. My friend Vern Edwards would maybe be a naysayer to this question, but I remain optimistic.  

The use of on-the-spot orals as part of the advisory down select process benefits both the Government and industry and has a better likelihood in the award of “real” best value procurements. The general proclamations of the benefits of these techniques are true: 

  • Reduces amount of documentation for the Government to review 
  • Removes non‐viable companies and leaves in only the strongest companies for the tradeoff decision 
  • Reduces cost and burden to industry 
  • Reduces number of protests 

With any process through, to get the benefit you must do it correctly. When advising our clients, I focus on key considerations: 

For Government 

Make Phase 1 Most Important.  Being an “advisory” down select means companies can choose to stay in the competition.  This could defeat the benefits of this technique for both the Government and companies if not done properly.  Making the first phase the most important evaluation factor does a couple of things. If a company receives a low confidence rating for the first phase, then realistically it is an uphill battle to win the procurement because all other phases are less important. This then becomes a company business decision as to whether it makes good business sense to pursue an opportunity that has a low probability of winning. If the company bows out at this phase, then any basis for a protest goes away as well.   

Develop Strong On-the-Spot Questions. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Do not waste it on things that can be recited from a written proposal.  What answers to questions would give you confidence that the offeror can successfully perform the work and therein meet the objectives of the procurement? Scenario-based questions are ideal because they place the team in a posture where they are required to critically think through a solution. In some instances, there may not be a clear solution but watching the team navigate the scenario can give the Government high confidence in the aptitude of the offeror’s team.    

For Industry 

Ask for a Debrief.  Even if not required by regulation, request a debrief. It can provide valuable information to learn and improve so next time there is an opportunity to bid on similar requirements you have a stronger chance of winning.  Note to Government, offerors want to know that they were treated fairly and how to make their next offer stronger. Providing the offeror information will go a long way in improving the overall acquisition process. 

Practice for the On-the-Spot Orals. While not having to prepare a lengthy written proposal reduces cost and burden to the company, a company must put time and effort into fully preparing for on-the-spot orals. These are not easy, and a company should not wing it. The best way to prepare for an oral on-the-spot is the same way that you would prepare for a written exam– be truly comfortable with your material. Also, and most significantly, know your team members. The team needs to convey to the Government that the team has the requisite subject matter expertise, that each team member understands their role, that each team member understands their teammates’ roles, and they know how to work together. The Government will see through if you have never worked with each other before. 

About the Author: Karen O’Brien is a federal acquisition expert and published author. She is a Senior Vice President at Jefferson leading acquisition engagements for Jefferson’s federal agency clients. To contact the author or if you have questions, please email  

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