How to Win a Federal Bid

Competing for a GSA commission begins online. Opportunities are listed at www.fedbizopps.gov. Firms must signal their interest by submitting a thin portfolio—“not exceeding one-quarter-inch thickness,” in GSA's parlance—describing relevant experience.

These portfolios kick o. a two-stage evaluation by a panel of five experts. One member of the evaluation board is a “national peer” from the private sector, while the other four include the GSA's own design and engineering experts and a representative for the client.

  • In the staff conference room, chief architect Shepherd (seated at center) with Thomas Grooms, director of design excellence and the arts division (left) and Robert Fraga, assistant commissioner for capital construction program management. Standing from left to right are William Holley, chief engineer; Gilbert Delgado Jr., director of construction excellence; Charles Matta, director of federal buildings and modernizations; Rolando Rivas-Camp, director of historic buildings; and Robert Andrukonis, director of courthouse programs.

    Credit: U.S. General Services Administration

    In the staff conference room, chief architect Shepherd (seated at center) with Thomas Grooms, director of design excellence and the arts division (left) and Robert Fraga, assistant commissioner for capital construction program management. Standing from left to right are William Holley, chief engineer; Gilbert Delgado Jr., director of construction excellence; Charles Matta, director of federal buildings and modernizations; Rolando Rivas-Camp, director of historic buildings; and Robert Andrukonis, director of courthouse programs.

The board's analysis of portfolios will lead to a shortlist. Choices are said to be weighted for past performance (35%), philosophy and design intent (25%), the lead designer's portfolio (25%), and the lead designer's qualifications (15%).

Shepherd says the agency is looking for a philosophy and approach that respond to the program as well as demonstrated creativity and experience with similar challenges. Shortlisted firms will be interviewed and ranked. The board will make a recommendation for the commission, but that isn't necessarily the end of the process.

The panel may be overruled and the commission awarded to a runner-up. Occasionally, a project will be critical enough to require a charrette and evaluation by a jury of three national peers. On a high-stakes project, shortlisted firms may also be subjected to a full-blown design competition to winnow out the losers.

Whatever the exceptions, Shepherd insists, “Selection panels are independent.” He waits to weigh in after the architect has been chosen.