How To Sole-Source a Contract: ICE’s Next Pistol, S&W M&P

So, the gang at ICE want to buy a new pistol. The initial contract solicitation, a Request for Information, is here (the meat of it is in the bit called the Statement of Work [.pdf]).

They’re buying the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm, even though that firearm is mentioned nowhere in the solicitation, which is ostensibly a request for several makers to provide guns for a run-off.



How do they get from a multi-vendor solicitation and, presumably, evaluation, to the apparently preselected M&P without mentioning either the pistol itself, or even the fact that “the fix is in”, in any of their documents?

Welcome to the wacky world of government contracting, where sole-sourcing a contract is generally forbidden — and common.

How do they do it? When they’ve decided what they want, they look at characteristics that set the preferred item they want apart from its competitors, and then they write those characteristics — whether they’re important, or not — into the Statement of Work.

For example, this SOW requires that the pistol have a polymer frame (so long, most SIGs, Berettas, etc), and that it have a consistent trigger pull on every shot (so long, every DA/SA automatic). At this point, only a plastic striker-fired gun or a DAO model is possible — and the trigger pull requirements rule out the DAO pistol (it has to be from 5-8.5 pounds pressure). So by this point you’re down to Glock, M&P, and Glock’s imitators. The solicitition demands an ambidextrous slide release: Tschuß! to the Austrian.


At this point, the new SIG P320 may still be in the running, because it has a striker-fired system, a polymer frame, and an ambi slide release. But the word we get suggests the fix is in; a few other detailed requirements like front sight configuration firm it up: and ICE’s solicitation writers have written a new-pistol acquisition document that complies strictly with the letter of the law, whilst turning the law on its head and sole-sourcing Smith pistols.

Now, they’re good pistols and most of the agents have fallen out of love with the current standard SIG in .40. (The agency has long been planning to revert to 9mm, as modern duty ammunition is almost as effective as .40 and the reduced blast and recoil translate to more hits on target, in the hands of real agents).

Of course, while we say, “they’re good pistols,” anyone who looks can find examples of agencies that had problems rolling them out. For example, NC Highway Patrol gave up on M&Ps in .357 SIG in 2013, and Texas DPS slow-rolled a rollout after having problems in early 2014.

Chris Costa also encountered a batch of M&Ps with abysmal accuracy problems last December, as reported at Monderno and on Chris’s Facebook page at the time. The photos show rounds keyholing at pistol distances!

22 thoughts on “How To Sole-Source a Contract: ICE’s Next Pistol, S&W M&P

  1. TRX

    That’s pretty much what they did with the Beretta, except the government spec kept changing every time another vendor prototyped a gun that would meet the spec-of-the-month.

    Perhaps someday we’ll learn how Beretta managed to put the fix in.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, I was around at the time, and except for the CZ, which was not entered, the Beretta and the SIG P226 were the best guns in the field, in reliability and durability terms. All were about the same in lethality and accuracy, shooting ball ammo. (Fun fact: the US Army was still shooting 1944 and 1945 dated 9mm ball in those days, although they used new ammo in the JSSAP and Army tests. Beretta and SIG (especially SIG) have both struggled with QC issues from time to time since then.

      I think it’s a measure of the quality of those two pistols that they’re both still in service around the world today.

      The only reason the Beretta beat the SIG for the final M9 contract, by the way, was that it was substantially (~$100 per unit IIRC) cheaper.

      ETA: do the math. If you’re buying a half-million pistols, that’s fifty million dollars saved by making the cost the tiebreaker!

      SEALs went to the SIG when they had QC problems with the Berettas (very early). An Army SMU played with the Berettas and stayed (at the time) with tuned .45 1911s. The SEALs later inflicted the silly Mk23 “offensive handgun” on SOF but if you meet them they’re mostly carrying SIGs. I do not know if their JSOC elements have gone to Glock as so many other SMUs have done. Low cost and ease of maint on the Glock are powerful logistical reasons for an agency choosing that platform. S&W is very close on both (they might be able to beat the import if they weren’t importing from higher-cost Massachussetstan vs. Austria).

      Most agencies, militaries, and the few units that are blessed with independent budgets or things like MFP-11 funds, still have to fit their handgun purchases into a fixed budget. A dollar saved on a handgun can be used for overtime or for training. (This is less important in a Fed agency like ICE. There, personnel are so expensive and so wastefully deployed — for instance, something between dozens and hundreds of ICE agents nationwide are Giglio’d and can’t testify or work investigations, so they have make-work do-nothing jobs — that procurement is a drop in the bucket).

      The dirty secret is that most popular 9mm pistols are very closely equivalent to one another. About the only important thing is that your troops/cops/agents be well trained in it and confident in it. 99% of the pistol backbiting that fills the magazines and blogs is irrelevant bullshit.

  2. DAN III

    Re: The S&W M&P solicitation.

    I have two of the 9mm models. Also, their German-made .22 cal model.
    They’re not my favorite pistol when it comes to polymer. The Croation manufactured XDm series is my “go to” pistol. I won’t burden readers with my analysis of XDm9 vs M&P9. What I will state is that the solicitation was written to ensure knocking out all other competitors. All of whom are foreign owned companies. S&W is truly a American company.

    So while Hognose appears to complain about the procurement procedure, the fact of the matter is it is past time we, us, Americans, stop buying foreign products, especially for state and federal .gov entities. For as it stands today, 1/3rd of all American adults are without work. Now our natural and native born citizens will have to contend with competition and lower wages from illegal, foreign invaders. At least the S&W bid is, to me, a move in tne right direction. Unlike GSA who is buying Korean KIAs and Hyundais to put fedgov license plates on.

    I won’t shed any tears for the fanboys of Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Springfield Armory. The M&P solicitation is but a tiny victory in the battle against globalization of the United States. Small but a victory. Can we win the war ?

    More power to Smith and Wesson.

    1. Jordan

      Wait, so you claim that US citizens and gov agencies should only buy American manufactured products but your own “go to” pistol is made in Croatia? Cognitive dissonance much?

  3. robroysimmons

    Sometimes it is necessary, many years ago the outfit I was employed by went thru the rig a ma role of purchasing a rubber tired loader and one of the entrants to the rodeo was a substandard Japanese model by Komatsu and no one wanted it, because it sucked badly. So the spec was written that the John Deere model would be the front runner in party by disqualifying the competition, and in this case it worked out for the better.

    Could this be a sop to some political crook, possibly, but our system is still relatively open, even your blog is part of the process that can lead to a decent outcome and not pure cronyism.

    FTR I own the .22 model and like it.

    1. robroysimmons

      Wouldn’t hurt the larger manufacturers to have a social media presence of its reps scouring the larger shooting community websites to correct the information flow and shut down the rumor mills

      At AR-15 on a thread about 7.62 rifles the commentariat was going off on tangents about RRA’s mag choice when in mid thread a rep from the company complete with full name for verification showed up to let everyone know why the company chose a certain mag style when they did. IMO a S&W exec should have a rep tight on that Costa thread so tight he has eyeballs on his speen.

  4. Jim Scrummy

    Wow. As in not amazed by this hackery. After reading the SOW, the results are definitely in, and S&W wins the competition, just based on size requirements alone. Let’s not have an open competition between Sig, Walther, HK, Springfield, and Glock, to see what would be the best 9mm to suit the needs of ICE. Have to eliminate the DA/SA, so Beretta PX4 is a no go. Since Sig is the only other manufacturer that can meet the requirements (maybe, not sure can’t open the Sig P320 site to see the slide width measurement, but based on the 250 overall width, it will be disqualified). Can’t have that, because whoever is responsible for this procurement must be close to retirement and wants a job with S&W (sorry the cynic in me is in full bloom today). Nothing against the M&P 9/40/45 pistols (love their ergos), except the stock triggers are kinda meh, to me. Hopefully, the Pro-Series triggers (which are great to shoot, compared to stock) come with this procurement.

    1. DAN III


      “Hopefully, the Pro-Series triggers (which are great to shoot, compared to stock) come with this procurement.”

      Really ? My Pro Series C.O.R.E. trigger outright SUCKS ! The reset is long and the overtravel is no better. It feels like mush. Don’t know what Pro Series you’re referring to but the consensus among my pistolero acquaintences is that the M&P Pro Series triggers are outright junk.

      I’m replacing my Pro Series trigger with an APEX. It will be more like a 1911 trigger.

      Now, on the solicitation side….for it’s faults, the S&W is my choice for any fedgov, stategov or localgov agency.

      At what point in time do you free traders wake up and smell the unemployment and underemployment ? It is time to dismiss the outright use of foreign products in lieu of American products. Perhaps you free traders should look at the deficit and realize how much debt 18 TRILLION DOLLARS is.

      My bet is most of you are sucking at the trough of a .gov job.

      1. Jim Scrummy

        Wow, all I was asking for was an open competition. Sorry, for working in the DoD, and having done numerous procurement SOWs for consulting services and the purchasing of equipment. I would’ve never have submitted this narrow of an SOW to a Contracting Officer, because it’s restrictions on pistol size reeks of favoritism. That is a no go, where I work at (favoritism of one vendor over another in a solicitation), and would be flagged right away (and it may be challenged by other manufacturers). If you have angst in me working for, sorry, I also worked 20 years in the private sector prior to this gig.

        In regards to S&W products, particularly the M&P handgun line. I like the grip ergonomics, but the trigger, like I said was meh (just trying to not say it sucks). I found the M&P Pro Series trigger better than the stock, but, still not as good as a common garden variety Glock. For that matter I believe the Walther PPQ and the HK VP9 have the best out of box triggers today (For the record, I own both along with Glocks). I sold my M&P 9 to buy the PPQ, which was a big upgrade. So, I guess you’re okay with sticking ICE agents with an American made handgun with a sucky trigger, because well it’s American made (which is a myth by the way, where does the iron, bauxite, oil, and other raw material components of the weapons system come from???). Last time I checked, I thought the trigger was the most important part on a gun (besides bullets)? If the trigger goes down, all you have is an expensive hand club, which may not be useful in a gunfight. Even you’ve stated you’re doing the Apex trigger job on your M&P, so that is a data point, that you don’t believe in the stock triggers. As I stated before, all I really want is an open competition, if the M&P 9 wins, great. I have no dog in this fight other than being a COR at a different organization, and would’ve never put something this bad out on the street. It lacks integrity.

        In regards to $18 trillion in debt, you forgot the unfunded liabilities, which would add another $100 trillion (depending on who’s numbers you use). It’s a spending problem that will be solved by??? Free trade? Well go talk to all the American manufacturers who wanted NAFTA, China MFN Status, and a host of other Free Trade agreements over the past 20 plus years. For that matter, talk to some of the manufacturing unions, with their high wage scales, which is one of the factors why manufacturing has gone to other locales. Also, talk to the EPA and the IRS with their awesome regulations regarding the environment and taxation of earnings as to why American Manufacturing is done in less regulatory onerous locales.

  5. Gadfly

    The fix is hardly in for S&W.
    HK VP9
    SIG 320
    Beretta APX
    They all met the requirements.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I’m getting a lot more info today. Apparently the real intent was to sole-source, but not the M&P. The real story (or maybe it’s just the next level of the onion) is even funnier.

      To all: expect a correction/amplification by evening.

    2. DAN III

      American sovereignty, it’s gone:

      Ownership of companies:

      Fabrique Nationale = Belgian company
      Heckler & Koch = German company
      Sig Sauer = Swiss company
      Beretta = Italian company
      Smith & Wesson = American company

      FWIW….free trade and the global market. Enjoy.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Actually, FN has been Belgian since foundation by the merger of about 9 small Belgian gunsmith shops circa 1889 or so. It has manufacturing and warehouse facilities in VA and SC.

        H&K is a spinoff of Mauser-werke engineers. It has a factory (shared with Wilcox) in the USA that employs American workers and engineers.

        SIG Sauer is actually a Swiss-German company, but has had a factory in the USA for decades. A year ago it opened a second, larger one. It also has a large training compound. Pretty much everyone who works there is a Yank.

        Beretta — yep, owned by the same Italian family for ~500 years or so. However, it has several US manufacturing facilities.

        Most of those companies are privately held so we don’t know who actually owns them, but in the case of one, some equity has been earned by some of the US executives.

        Right now, a US factory is out of reach for the European companies who haven’t done it already because of the collapse (ongoing) in the Euro. When the Euro comes back to parity (which will probably happen sooner or later, probably after they throw Greece out of the Eurozone) the economics of Europeans building here gets better. Right now, they can do better by building at home and selling here.

        1. DAN III

          Hognose….the profit on product sold and owned by these foreign companies goes back to the mother country.

          Damn….how did we produce and become the Arsenal of Democracy during World War Two ? Just think how much better our troops would have been if the .45s, Gaermans, P-47s, B-17s and the venerable DC-3/C-47 could have been replaced by foreign
          designed and solicited products to the US government.

          Our industry has been decimated because of American support for foreign goods. More than
          HALF of all Americans work for some form of government. Is THAT the America you and others are proud of ? I am not.

          This country is no longer sovereign. As I’ve posted here before, IFAKs are filled with bandages from
          Israel and Communist China. The Veterans Administration provides its veterans with
          eyeglasses, prosthetic devices and other healthcare devices, again made in Red China,
          Pakistan and India. In the meantime the firearms industry is about the only semblance we have left of
          product made by American workers for domestic consumption. Yet here I read so many readers defending and justifying foreign product over domestic.

          Evidently nationalism and patriotism has gone the way of the Edsel. For truly, what do Americans have to be proud of anymore ? “My dad works at Walmart !” ?

          Think about it, as so many Americans ignore this question: “Where are your children going to work and earn a family-sustaining wage ?”

          As long as America continues to accept foreign product and foreign control over what little manufacturing is conducted here, wages will decline along with the standard of living.

          Enjoy your Beretta, TAVOR, H&K, etc., assembled, not manufactured here, with foreign parts imported from the mother country, and a smidgen of domestic parts like barrels, made domestically.

          Hard for me to understand how so many Americans have succumbed to “the global economy”. Just keep flying that American flag made in Taiwan. Smith and Wesson thanks you.

          1. Hognose Post author

            If you buy stock (or ADRs) in, say, Daimler-Benz or EASA, some of the profit comes to you. Letting capital, goods, and (within reason) people, move freely makes everyone better off. Look at how much the products of, for example, US automakers have been improved by foreign competition.

            The USA remains one of the great manufacturing powerhouses of the world. Not only that, it is the leader in many technologies that will be central to 21st Century manufacturing. It may not employ vast numbers of men in pull-the-lever-monkey UAW type jobs any more, but we make more stuff than ever.

            The USA also exports a great deal of what we manufacture. (Those nations that allow ownership of modern sporting rifles often showcase American wares alongside the best of local in their gunshops).

          2. Y.

            Hard for me to understand how so many Americans have succumbed to “the global economy”.

            Money, dear boy. Money.

            For US companies having their goods made outside of the US by cheaper labor results in higher profits and more bonuses for the management.

            If most stuff Americans use was made in America, US corporations would be less profitable and their shareholders poorer. That’d be bad, because for a good Boomer money is the measure of all things. Or so they seem to behave..

            Protip: no one cares about the little people.

          3. Hognose Post author

            Yeah, I have two Toyotas because Japanese workers are slave labor. And the doc up the street has an AMG bolted & welded together by those underpaid Germans.

  6. Y.

    This is funny. We had a similar story in Slovakia, except in our case the unfairly excluded company (Grand Power ltd., they make rather nice rotary-locked handguns, once sold in the US as STI GP6) contested the tended because it was obviously made so only Glock could win it. Eventually it all fizzled out and no guns were bought.

    For example, this SOW requires that the pistol have a polymer frame (so long, most SIGs, Berettas, etc), and that it have a consistent trigger pull on every shot (so long, every DA/SA automatic). At this point, only a plastic striker-fired gun or a DAO model is possible — and the trigger pull requirements rule out the DAO pistol (it has to be from 5-8.5 pounds pressure). So by this point you’re down to Glock, M&P, and Glock’s imitators. The solicitition demands an ambidextrous slide release: Tschuß! to the Austrian.

    Heh. They have nothing on the Slovak interior ministry. IIRC, that contract even specified gun dimensions and that the guns must have adjustable grips.

  7. collimatrix

    I remember seeing a bunch of uzi barrels with polygonal rifling once. The Secret Service had written a requirement for their next SMG, and mysteriously that feature…

    IWI, not to be knocked out of the running that easily, made up a bunch of replacement barrels.

  8. HPR

    This is absolute nonsense and hype. Just about all the big names in military grade handguns now have at least one model that can meet the requirements of the SOW.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Nice to hear from OFTP.

      Wanna name the Glock that has an ambi slide release?

      Wanna tell us why you borked the G19? What we hear from agents is, “if they let us carry the 19, most of us would drop the SIGs”.

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