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!

This entry was posted in Industry, Pistols and Revolvers on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

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


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.

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.


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.