Ask the government the right questions

Knowing how to prepare questions for the government for the purpose of soliciting more detailed information is not as easy as it may seem.

While the process of preparing questions to the government seems straightforward, it’s not that simple, because:

  • The way you ask the question can often elicit a response that is not in your team’s favor
  • The way you ask the question can inadvertently provide information about your team’s capabilities and strategies to your competitors, allowing them to exploit perceived weaknesses in your approach
  • Asking questions for which the answers are unambiguously stated in the RFP (because your team hasn’t completed a thorough read-through of the RFP and any attachments). Such a request sends a message to the Contracting Officer that your team lacks understanding of the RFP requirements, instructions, and evaluation factors presented.

Here are three “best practices” that you should employ when preparing questions for the government that will help your company or team avoid these issues.

First, develop a template that contains several columns so that you can capture your question number, the RFP section number, the specific RFP text to which you are referring, and your proposed question. You may also add a column for the suggested response (i.e., the actual response or desired wording you would like to see in the RFP document), as shown in the following table.

Second, directly cite the RFP language that requires more detailed information or clarification, or any language that needs to be changed to ensure consistency between separate sections of the proposal.

Third, make your questions specific to the stated RFP wording and do not editorialize about your company’s capabilities or limitations. Where appropriate, provide a ‘suggested response’; the government may be willing to adopt your proposed language.

Asking the appropriate questions not only supplies your team with the answers it needs to fulfill their roles in creating a comprehensive, well-scored proposal but also creates a lasting impression on the contracting officer that could help to expedite future answers and good will.

– Ellen Perrine


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