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Experience vs. Past Performance: Different But Often Confused as the Same

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

When does it come into play? For competitive negotiated procurements, FAR Subpart 15.304 requires that the contract award decision be based on evaluation factors and significant subfactors that represent the key areas of importance and emphasis. While price/cost must be evaluated in every source selection (with some exceptions, like architect-engineer services), the quality of the product or service must also be addressed. This is done by the use of non-cost factors that most often include experience and past performance.

What’s the difference? ”Experience” seeks to find out “what have you done”; has the entity performed work that is same/similar to the requirements. “Past Performance” seeks to find out “how well did you do it”; of what the entity performed, how well was it done.

What does the FAR say about experience and past performance? Experience is not a required evaluation factor, but it is one of the most common factors and typically among the most highly weighted non-cost factors. Conversely, past performance must be evaluated in all source selections for negotiated competitive acquisitions over the simplified acquisition threshold unless the contracting officer documents the reason its used is not an appropriate evaluation factor for the acquisition. (Ref. FAR 15.304(c)(2) & (3))

What must offerors and the Government keep in mind? When used on the same solicitation, these two evaluation factors are often and easily confused by both offerors and evaluation team members. And it’s not hard for both to get off track.


  • When crafting evaluation factors and criteria, be aware of the differences and do not co-mingled or misconstrue terms.

  • The contracting officer must (1) review all evaluation criteria for clarity, (2) carefully instruct evaluation team personnel on the differences between experience and past performance when used together in a single solicitation, and (3) review the evaluation team findings to ensure contractors are not being double-dinged. Example: The evaluation team documents the same weakness, “The offeror does not demonstrate adequate experience same / similar that which is expected under the resultant contract,” under both the experience and past performance factor.

  • Titles of factors / criteria should not co-mingle the two terms. Examples of poorly titled criteria include “Past Experience” and “Performance”.


  • Read the solicitation carefully.

  • If you have questions regarding evaluation factors, ASK!

  • If you believe different factors / criteria overlap each other, ask the Government to clarify how it will ensure each factor stands on its own given the criteria stated.

  • In your debriefing, look for similarly stated weaknesses or deficiency statements between experience and past performance factors.

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