The Top 5 Government Contract Tradeoffs – And How to Make Them Pay Off for You

Austin, TX

Everyone knows that in sales, and particular government sales, price matters. No federal, state, or local government agency is going to award a contract without considering the cost of the goods, services or construction solicited. Cost-only based bids and LPTA RFPs are still the most frequently used for commodities buys. However, public sector procurement officials are increasingly using a “PTMPP” scoring sheet to evaluate RFP responses for construction and services contracts.

These five non-price contract evaluation factors – aka “tradeoffs” – enable decision makers to prioritize performance over price, for example, when seeking quality goods and services. In fact, utilizing one or more of the following tradeoffs remains the best way for government organizations to secure the best value for every purchase:

Past Performance

This is the most commonly used tradeoff, and it grades your performance on past contracts. Did you meet deadlines? Come in on or under budget? Have any quality issues? These are just a few of the questions that a contracting officer will ask while evaluating your proposal. 

Technical Expertise

You will have to describe in detail “how” you will do the job outlined in the solicitation. Though some companies may be hesitant to divulge trade secrets or their key differentiators, you could be disqualified if you fail to disclose this information – especially if technical expertise is the primary evaluation criteria. Remember: The FAR mandates that agencies protect all proprietary information given by vendors for any reason. State and local organizations may also implement additional confidentiality and security mandates.


Though this tradeoff is infrequently used, some agencies will want to know how your business is run. They will ensure there are no ethics violations, compliance issues, etc. and confirm that the management team in particular has the proper certifications to oversee the solicited project (i.e. ANSI certifications). They may also give weight to industry awards secured by the management team.

Prior Experience

This is “what you've done” on previous jobs as it relates to the current government contract solicitation. For example, if you’re competing for a construction contract, they’ll want to know how many similar projects you’ve completed in the past, whether in the public or private sector. (Remember: Your performance on those jobs is only graded as noted in the first bullet above.)

Personnel Qualifications

Many agencies want to confirm that the workers assigned to the job, if you’re selected, have obtained the proper experience/skill sets and currently maintain mandatory certifications. This tradeoff is often used for medical contracts, for example, to confirm doctors and nurses have the proper degrees and certifications, as well as construction contracts where it’s imperative that electricians, plumbers and other trade specialists are properly bonded and licensed.

What Does This Mean?

The good news is that government buyers are often willing to pay more for a service or construction contract if they’re confident they’ll receive a better “product” based on a combination of the above tradeoffs. Plus, they will always disclose the use of tradeoffs – and detail the weighting system that will be utilized – in the solicitation. This level of transparency means that you have ample opportunity to adjust your response accordingly to promote your “best self”. But, if you really want to make this scoring structure work in your favor, take note of the following:

  •  A source selection committee is convened to review proposals and make award decisions when a tradeoff system is used. The contracting officer will typically invite the customer and a technical expert (when that’s a key selection factor) at a minimum. Others may join the review to ensure there is no biased and provide additional expert guidance. That means that your proposal will be thoroughly reviewed and lots of (somewhat subjective) recommendations will be submitted. Be honest and thorough in your responses to build trust in your company.
  • The scoring system will not change from what is disclosed in the solicitation. Some agencies may use a color-coded method to indicate rating, others will use a numeric scale or “marginal, excellent, outstanding” classifications. Regardless, you will find out how you racked and stacked against the competition in your debrief, win or lose.  That will give you a valuable advantage on similar projects – or other solicitations issued by this same agency – in the future.