Many proposal managers do their own FOIA requests. Some are already good at it and don’t mind the extra task. Others may have trouble convincing the brass to allocate a budget for it. But here are three scenarios where doing an anonymous public records request is crucial and outsourcing is worth the extra spend.
- The feedback is inadequate.
- You suspect foul play.
- You don’t want your FOIA to be FOIA-ed.
You lost a bid, so you ask the procurement manager for feedback. They tell you something generic like “they had a better price,” or worse, they stop responding. You’ve been around the proposal block enough to know if it only boiled down to pricing, everyone would write a number on a napkin, slide it across the table, and that would be that. But your sales contact at the agency/institution is not your proposal coach and therefore not inclined to go through your proposal page by page to give you feedback. You decide to FOIA request the other bids, scoring and evaluation sheets, etc. The problem is, even though it is your legal right to do so, and improving your proposal is better in the long run for the procurement managers, there is a human on the other side of your request. Clients have told us stories of being called a sore loser or being perceived as the company that made things more difficult rather than the one that is easy to work with. If that contract goes up for rebid, you’re going to want to protect your sales relationships. It’s better to anonymously request through a third party so you can get that bonafide feedback without risking some unfortunate possible side effects.
Foul play! Putting proposals together eats up resources – time, money, and especially morale after a loss. If you think someone had an inside track on you from the start or an agency overlooked certain procedures they must legally follow, you might consider requesting something like the email communications between the agency and the winning bidder along with the scoring/evaluation sheets. We’ve had clients who found grounds to challenge the award. After all, the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is checks and balances. However, it won’t do you any favors to have your name on the request, especially if it turns out there were no errors or foul play in the awarding process. Checking that everything is above board is prudent. But it’s wise to do so anonymously.
Your company may be requesting materials to scout opportunities in the market, see benchmarks you’ll need to compete with, or source data that gives you a competitive advantage. Keep in mind; your public records request is also a matter of public record that competitors will be able to see. Many companies have teams periodically reviewing FOIA logs. They can then profile your company, deduce your strategy or capabilities, and prepare to compete with you. Whatever the reason you are using a FOIA or Public Records request, it is almost always to your advantage to do so without leaving a footprint.