Responsive vs. Responsible

Do you know the difference between being responsive and being responsible? When it comes to government contracting, you have to be both.

Being responsive means giving the government exactly what it wants. When a government buying agency invites vendors to submit a bid, it has very specific requirements in mind. If the agency is looking for paper drinking cups, don’t submit a bid for plastic cups, even if you think the plastic ones would be better. If the government wants the cups shipped in quantities of one hundred packaged in poly bags, don’t propose to send batches of five hundred in cardboard cartons. The time to offer alternatives is before the invitation to bid is issued.

Being responsive extends to preparing your bid according to the instructions. There is typically a very specific cutoff date and time when bids must be received in the buying office. If the agency has specified a receipt time of three o’clock and your bid package doesn’t arrive until five minutes after three, your bid is not responsive and will not even be considered. This may sound harsh and even unfair, but in fact it’s exactly the opposite. The idea is to give all bidders the same amount of time and an equal opportunity to gather information and prepare their bids. Also remember that much of the government’s business is now transacted electronically, but there are still specific rules to follow and deadlines to meet. Pay close attention to all requirements.

Being responsible, on the other hand, refers to your capability to provide what the government needs. You might think that if you’re the low bidder you should win the award. But sometimes the buying agency has concerns about your ability to perform as promised, especially if you have no prior experience working on a government contract or if the job is particularly difficult or costly. You’ll then undergo what’s called a pre-award survey. The government team will evaluate your management staff, production personnel, equipment and facilities, financial wherewithal, overall technical skills and quality control practices. They’ll look at past contracts, both government and private sector, and your track record for on-time delivery. If the pre-award survey team doesn’t find enough evidence to convince them that your company would be capable of successful performance, you will not get the contract.

If you’re a small business, however, you can appeal. You’ll be given the option to apply for a Certificate of Competency (COC), which means that the SBA is called in to conduct a further examination of your company’s capabilities. If the SBA overturns the pre-award survey team’s decision and issues a COC, the contract in question will be yours. A caveat: Carefully consider whether it is in your best interests to seek the COC. You don’t want to win the contract only to encounter problems completing it. It may be better to make any improvements suggested by the pre-award survey team, and look for future bidding opportunities.

Responsive vs. Responsible: For government contracting, you need to be both.