Understanding the RFP: Why Section L is so Important

Section L provides instructions to organize and prepare your proposal. This section includes the mandatory sections to be included in the proposal, the maximum page count for each section, and all instructions regarding how the proposal must be formatted.

Read Section L very closely to ensure that you’re compliant with RFP submission instructions. Source selection boards that receive a dozen lengthy proposals to evaluate will frequently look for any minor noncompliance to disqualify your bid and lighten their workload. Following Section L will keep you out of trouble. The easiest thing for them to check to toss your proposal in the trash bin is formatting.

A lot of people disregard formatting as being less important than other requirements.  It sounds trivial until one bidder uses a font type and size that enables them to add the equivalent of two pages of content more than a losing bidder on a ten-page section.  To avoid a near-certain GAO protest, the source selection will simply disqualify your proposal. Formatting is taken very seriously.

In addition to formatting nit-noids, Section L will also help you organize and align your proposal with the government’s scorecard. This makes it easier for both parties to convey and receive information. Sometimes Section L requires a ridiculous organization that doesn’t make sense, but still go with it. Most likely, the government scorecard is aligned the same way.

If the source selection board is expecting to see the next evaluated section of your proposal on the following page and it’s not there, then you’re banking on bored, tired government employees remembering that “skipped” section when they come across it. And that won’t happen!

Another valuable component of Section L is that it may help you make a “bid / no bid” decision. For example, if the government is seeking seven past performance qualifications for an effort that you only have one relevant past performance, then your company will either not meet the requirements to bid or will have about a 0% chance of winning.  

Although these are great reasons to immediately flip to Section L, that’s not why the really smart small business owners read this section first.  Business owners, the people who will ultimately fund the proposal effort, must make a Return-on-Investment decision.  For example, if the issuing organization wants a 300-page proposal for a 2-person contract, then the smart business owner moves on to the next bid opportunity.