How to debrief the unsuccessful respondent
What do you say to the people who didn't win the last major request for proposal (RFP)? Handle it wrong,
and you can get angry respondents, threats of litigation and suppliers who refuse to submit proposals in
the future. Handle it right, and you can get better proposals in the future and early resolution of disputes -
plus, you can win the confidence and trust of vendors.
How do the top procurement people in Canada handle debriefings? The Legal Edge, a Victoria-based
newsletter for contract and purchasing managers, talked to Jim Kovacs, manager of Purchasing Services
at the Ministry of Health in Ontario and former chair of the Purchasing Council of the Ontario government.
His comments are based on many years of experience with large-dollar RFPs and tenders.
Why hold debriefings?
The purpose of a debriefing is to explain why a respondent's proposal was not selected. In Ontario,
debriefings are only provided if they are requested by an unsuccessful respondent. RFP documents do
not require debriefings on a mandatory basis, nor is it government policy to provide routine debriefings.
However, Management Board Secretariat guidelines recommend the practice. As a result, an Ontario
RFP advises respondents that a debriefing is available upon request.
Why is debriefing a best practice?
Governments should respond positively to a debriefing request. First, it recognizes that the respondent
spent a lot of time and money preparing its proposal. A debriefing ensures that a respondent also
understands the reciprocal work done by the government. It explains the RFP evaluation process as well
as the amount of time and effort expended by the evaluation committee. In many cases, a debriefing will
avoid the possibility that a rejected respondent will take its disappointment to a higher authority - your
boss, the minister or a member of the provincial Legislature.
Most importantly, debriefings are good for everyone concerned. Respondents can learn from their
mistakes; they can't improve if they don't understand their failings. Debriefings will encourage them, and
hopefully help them submit better proposals in the future. And the government benefits by having stronger
Who does a debriefing?
The best person is the RFP coordinator or government staff member who organized the process. The
members of the RFP evaluation committee can attend or not. Often, a representative from purchasing will
be called upon to assist in the debriefing meeting.
When should you hold a debriefing?
Only conduct a debriefing at the request of a respondent after the award is made and the contract is in
place. Do not hold a debriefing before the contract is awarded. Sometimes the unsuccessful respondent
will try to influence the evaluation process by challenging the evaluation score. Similarly, to get maximum
benefit from a debriefing, try not to delay it beyond two weeks after contract award.
What process should you use?
Debriefings can be handled by writing a letter, by a telephone conversation or by a face-to-face meeting.
If the telephone is used, be sure to follow up with a brief letter confirming that the respondent's questions
were answered and that the respondent was satisfied with the debriefing.
What should you say? - 10 Top Tips
• If the debriefing is a face-to-face meeting, then establish the rules up front. Make it clear that the
reason for the meeting is to explain the evaluation process and why the respondent was
• Take time to explain the RFP evaluation process. Many times, the vendor does not appreciate the
integrity and thoroughness of the process.
• Only discuss the proposal made by the unsuccessful party. DO NOT make comparisons between
it and the winning proposal.
• Only refer to the evaluation criteria listed in the RFP. DO NOT make comments on matters
unrelated to the RFP criteria.
• Use the evaluation spread sheet that listed the scores for the unsuccessful respondent.
Emphasize the weakness of the proposal as per the score. "Out of a total of 50 points …your
proposal scored 25." Do not provide scores for any other specific proposals.
• Explain where the unsuccessful proposal ranked in the final scoring, but not in relationship to any
other specific proposals. Say only that "Out of five proposals, yours ranked third (or fourth, etc.)."
Do not mention the names of the other proponents.
• Only release a written statement of the individual score and/or the final score of the unsuccessful
• Point out the strengths of the respondent's proposal and acknowledge where the proposal scored
• Provide advice on how the respondent can improve their scoring in future proposal submissions.
• Confirm at the end of the session that the respondent is satisfied with the debriefing.
An Overview for Agency Personnel
BACKGROUND: Changes to the FAR affected the rules and regulations regarding the
debriefing of offerors. This paper addresses that information authorized for disclosure
under debriefing regulations, and provides additional guidance on debriefings.
REFERENCES: FAR Subpart 15.505, 15.506
FAR Subpart 33.103
Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, Public Law 104-106
41 U.S.C. 253b(e-)-(g)
INTRODUCTION: Debriefing is the process that affords offerors to a competitive
solicitation with an explanation of the evaluation process, an
assessment of their proposal in relation to the evaluation criteria, a
general understanding of the basis of the award decision, and the
rationale for their exclusion from the competition. The purpose of
the debriefing has been expanded to instill confidence in the
process by reflecting that proposals were treated fairly. Statutory
and regulatory changes to the debriefing rules were created to
enhance and better establish the debriefing as a viable right that
would further reduce the number of protest filings, and that would
further strengthen and enhance the government’s relationship with
GUIDANCE: Debriefing of successful and unsuccessful offerors may be done
orally, in writing, or by any other method acceptable to the
Contracting Officer (CO). There is no specific requirement to hold
face-to-face debriefings; sending the written debriefing materials
via mail/facsimile is a proper method. If using this method, it is
very important to maintain some evidence that the offeror received
the written debriefing. Sometimes, it will be financially
prohibitive for the offeror to attend a debriefing in person. The
needs of the offeror should be afforded due consideration, but the
CO makes the final decision as to the debrief location and
methodology. Do not hesitate to make use of available technology,
and do what makes sense!
Debriefings consist of two distinct types, pre-award (offerors
excluded from the competitive range) and post-award. Separate
regulations have been established for governance of each type,
detailed below. It should be noted, there are no separate rules for
debriefing Best Value awards. Evaluation criteria have been
spelled out in the solicitation, and offerors have been notified of
the place cost/price plays in the overall decision for award. A
well-documented decision memorandum will note the
cost/technical tradeoffs that were made in making the award
A debriefing requires thorough preparation. Experience has shown
that going into a debriefing unprepared is the surest way to lose the
confidence of the offeror and increase the prospects of a protest.
Offerors may rely heavily on these sessions to influence their
decision regarding the filing of a protest. An effective debriefing
can often deter a protest by demonstrating that the government
conducted a thorough, fair evaluation and made a sound decision
according to the established solicitation evaluation methodology.
Law and regulations require the CO to “make every effort” to
provide timely requested pre-award debriefings “as soon as
practical.” CO’s are provided latitude in delaying the debriefing if
providing the debriefing is not in the government’s best interest.
Only one debriefing is required, so if the CO provides a pre-award
debriefing, there is no need to later provide a post-award
Pre-award Debriefing Minimum Contents
• Agency’s evaluation of significant elements of requester’s
• Summary of the rationale for exclusion from the
• Reasonable responses to questions about the following of
source selection procedures.
In a pre-award debriefing, do not disclose the following:
• Number of offerors;
• Identity of other offerors;
• Content of other proposals;
• Ranking of offers;
• Evaluation of other offers;
• Point-by-point comparisons with other offers; and
• Information not releasable under the Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA).
Any offeror kept in the competitive range, including the awardee,
has a right to a timely post-award debriefing, provided the offeror
submits a timely written response. If an award is made on the
initial proposal without discussions (i.e., no competitive range is
made), any offeror submitting a proposal has a right to a timely
post-award debriefing, provided the offeror submitted a timely
written request for a debriefing to the CO. Timely submitted
written requests for debriefings are considered “required
Notices of award trigger debriefings. Notices of contract award to
the unsuccessful offerors must be sent no later than 3 days after
award. Notices of award letters are not required to contain the
advise concerning the rights to request a debriefing that is required
under the pre-award notices to offerors excluded from the
competitive range. Establishing the date the offeror received the
notice may be difficult if the notice is sent by regular mail.
Accordingly, you should consider sending the notice by mail with
return receipt requested or by electronic transmission (facsimile)
with immediate acknowledgement requested.
Count days as calendar days, and include weekends and legal
holidays. Do not count the day the offeror received the notice.
Start with the next day. For instance, the offeror receives the
notice of award at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. That means the CO must
receive a request for debrief by close of business on Friday. A
“required debriefing” results from the timely receipt of a written
request for a debriefing. It is a “required debriefing” only if the
requester submits in writing the request to the CO within 3 days
after receipt of the notice of exclusion from the competitive range
or within three days after receipt of the notice of award.
The agency must provide the required debriefing, to the maximum
extent practical, within 5 days from receipt of the request for
debriefing. In a required debriefing, timing is important for
purposes of potentially extending the opportunity to stop contract
performance in the event of a protest. An offeror who protests
within 5 days after receiving a “required debriefing” can suspend
(stop work) contract performance even if the contract was awarded
more than 10 days or months prior to the protester receiving the
required debriefing. This makes the timely providing of the
required debriefing an important post-award consideration in
avoiding belated interruptions in contract performance.
If an offeror’s written request for a debriefing is not received by
the CO within 3 days after notice of contract award or notice of
exclusion from the competitive range, it is not a “required
debriefing,” and the CO need not promptly provide the debriefing
within 5 days of the receipt of the written request. However, the
regulations do require the belated requests to be considered to the
maximum extent practicable. These accommodating debriefings
do not extend the period for possible protest suspension of
Both required and accommodating debriefings trigger the
10-day-basis for timely protest rules. Therefore, the need to
respond to any debriefing requests remains unchanged with regards
to protest issues that are based on first-learned information that is
disclosed at the debriefing. However, receipt of a debriefing does
not preclude an offeror from later filing a protest on an issue about
which it was not advised by the agency during the debriefing.1
should also be noted that a FOIA request is not a written request
for a debriefing.2
If an offeror waits too long to request a
debriefing, resulting protests may be dismissed for lack of due
diligence on the part of the protester.3
Post-award Debriefing Minimum Contents
At a minimum, the following information must be provided to the
offeror in the debriefing:
• Offeror’s evaluated significant weaknesses or deficiencies;
• Overall evaluated price/cost and technical ratings of the
debriefed offeror and awardee;
• When ranking was developed, the overall ranking of
offerors (i.e., ranked 4th
out of 6 proposals; do not identify
other unsuccessful offerors by name);
• A summary of the rationale for award (identifies the
significant advantages of the awardee’s proposal in general
terms without revealing confidential information, and may
address cost/technical tradeoffs);
• For acquisition of commercial items, the make and model
of item to be delivered; and,
• Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether
source selection procedures were followed.
In Geo-Centers, Inc., B-276033, May 5, 1997, the GAO held a protest filed 3 months after award as
timely on information subsequently obtained under FOIA, since the information was initially withheld at
In Automated Medical Products Corporation, B-275835, February 3, 1997, the GAO noted the pursuit of
information under FOIA is not due diligence on the part of the protester, where the information could have
promptly been provided under debriefing rules.
In Professional Rehabilitation Consultants, Inc., B-275871, February 28, 1997, the GAO dismissed a
protest based upon information provided at a non-required debriefing because the protester did not request
a debriefing until more than two months after notice of award.
In a post-award debriefing, do not include the following:
• A point-by-point comparison between the debriefed
offeror’s proposal with those of other offerors;
• Names of individuals providing referenced past
performance information about the offeror;
• Information which is exempt from release under FOIA,
including trade secrets; privileged or confidential
manufacturing processes/techniques; and, commercial and
financial information, including cost breakdowns, profits,
indirect cost rates and similar information.
Remember, the CO is required to include an official summary of
the debriefing in the contract file!
TIPS: For informational purposes, here are a couple of helpful tips to
make your debrief successful:
• Keep some evidence of when an offeror receives notice of
being excluded from the competitive range or notice of
• Use source selection documents and evaluation reports to
form the basis for creating your debriefing material.
Government personnel needed for potential debriefings
should not generally schedule leave immediately after
award when there is a high likelihood that unsuccessful
offerors will timely request a debriefing.
• If a timely written request is received for a required
debriefing, prepare to provide the debriefing immediately,
but no later than 5 days from receipt of request. Carefully
review the calendar for reducing the suspension of
performance opportunity to coincide with the 10 days from
award period. Confirm in writing the date when the
government offered to make the debriefing.
• Obtain a list of who will be attending on behalf of the
unsuccessful offeror and elicit written specific questions
they wish addressed at the scheduled debriefing.
• Except for those weaknesses identified as a result of
changes in the Final Proposal Revision, each weakness
discussed during the debriefing should have already been
discussed with the offeror.
• Assure responses to questions correspond to areas
evaluated during source selection.
• Someone not involved in the debriefing should be assigned
to take notes of oral debriefing questions and answers.
These notes, as well as any written debriefing materials,
will constitute the record of the debriefing that must be
maintained with the contract file.
• Instruct the debriefing team to be polite, professional,
confident, and to avoid arguments, but not to be overly
apologetic regarding the evaluation made by the team.
Remember, a good award decision, and a well-presented
debriefing means not having to say you are sorry!
Date: February 4, 2003