Solicitations for government contracts come with all manner of terms, specifications, requirements, etc. But one feature that is certainly common to all solicitations is the deadline for submission. No matter the procurement, the solicitation will establish a time and date by which all proposals must be received. Not surprisingly, it is the responsibility of the offeror to make sure the proposal is received by the agency prior to the deadline. A late proposal typically means a rejected proposal, so adhering to the deadline is of utmost importance. After all, you can’t win if you’re not in the game.
It is important to recognize the difference between submission and receipt. Modern solicitations provide for various acceptable methods of submitting a proposal, e.g., mail, hand-delivery, email, etc. Each method of submission comes with its own challenge that must be considered by the offeror in order to ensure the agency actually receives the proposal on time. Proposals to be submitted via email may sometimes lag due to large attachments. Couriers are sometimes delayed getting entrance onto a government installation. And sometimes, government agencies utilize mail sorting facilities which add delays to the delivery process.
It was this last delivery challenge which was addressed in a recent GAO bid protest decision, Brian X. Scott, B-410195, Nov. 7, 2014. At issue in this case was a solicitation issued by the U.S. Navy, Military Sealift Command (MSC), for resupply deliveries to islands off the coast of California. The solicitation required proposals to be submitted to the MSC offices at the Washington Navy Yard by 2PM on July 30th.
The solicitation allowed for hand-delivered and mailed proposals. However, offerors were explicitly warned that couriers might encounter unpredictable and lengthy delays gaining access to the facility, and mailed and emailed proposals might encounter unpredictable and lengthy routing delays. The solicitation further reminded that offerors were responsible for ensuring the agency received the proposal by the deadline despite the risks and delays associated with the chosen delivery method.
On July 29th, the day prior to the deadline, the protester sent its proposal via U.S. Mail to be delivered the next day. Mail sent to the MSC office is first routed through the Navy’s mail sorting facility. The protester’s proposal was delivered to the Navy’s mail sorting facility prior to the deadline, however because of the Navy’s routing procedures the proposal was not received at the MSC office until July 31st. Because the protester’s proposal did not arrive at the MSC office prior to the deadline, it was rejected from consideration for award.
In its protest, the protester argued that because the proposal was in the Navy’s possession prior to the deadline, it should have been considered to be received on time. The protester also argued that the agency should have more adequately warned offerors that mailed proposals would experience significant delays. GAO rejected each of the protester’s arguments, and reiterated that it is the responsibility of the offeror to ensure its proposal is delivered prior to the deadline established by the solicitation, and at the location designated by the solicitation. Getting the proposal to the agency’s mailroom or other receiving area does not relieve the offeror of this responsibility. As a result, GAO denied the protest.
Government contractors typically put a lot of time (and money) into the preparation of their proposals in response to solicitations. Because the turnaround time from the release of the solicitation to the deadline for receipt of proposals is typically short, contractors will often attempt to squeeze every last minute out of that period before submission. However, a cost-benefit analysis is prudent in these situations—taking an extra minute, hour, or even day may increase the quality of a proposal, but the extra time may also lead the proposal to being rejected as late.