As a GSA Proposal Manager, I work with my various clients to help them prepare the best GSA Schedule proposals possible in response to the numerous solicitations put out by GSA. I have had many opportunities to work directly with GSA during their review of completed client proposals, and the one thing that never fails to amaze me is the seeming subjectivity behind these reviews. Some contracting officers will object vehemently to the information submitted, protesting that “major pieces” are missing (when it turns out they’re not), while others will accept proposals with minimal discussion, argument, or negotiation. One particular contracting officer personally berated me for the format of the proposal, while dozens of others have happily accepted identically-formatted proposals with nary a complaint. Certain contracting officers focus almost entirely on pricing, while others zero in on past performance experience and quietly accept the proposed pricing. There’s not what you’d call a lot of consistency.

Obviously I understand that different companies have different content in their proposals and that a contracting officer may only focus on areas of perceived weakness which would obviously vary based on the client. My experience, however, is that the wide variation in the standards set on GSA Schedule proposals is not a function of the variation in proposals, but rather the individuals conducting the review. That makes for a fun playing field, because while clients can write proposals that respond neatly and clearly to the requirements in the solicitation, it is nearly impossible to respond to the individual contracting officers’ preferences prior to meeting them.

That’s where the glorious “Request for Clarification” comes in, the beloved tool of contracting officers throughout all of GSA. Proposals are submitted and reviewed and then out of the blue, weeks or months after submission, Requests for Clarification come in requiring that my clients respond to questions, adjust incorrect proposal sections, and state their compliance to various terms (that have often already been agreed upon in the initial submission). This is where each contracting officers forces the offerors to conform to their version of GSA’s standards.