Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protests denied.
Protests that agency misevaluated proposals and performed an unreasonable price realism analysis are denied where record demonstrates that the technical evaluation was reasonable and consistent with solicitation, and any errors in the price realism analysis did not result in competitive prejudice.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
Sigmatech argues that its proposal was misevaluated under the technical/ management factor. GAO states that where a protest challenges an agency’s technical evaluation, GAO will review the evaluation record to determine whether the agency’s judgments were reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement statutes and regulations. A protester’s disagreement with an agency’s judgments does not render the evaluation unreasonable. Where a protester also challenges the selection rationale, GAO will review whether the award decision was reasonable in light of the RFP evaluation scheme, and whether the selection official adequately documented the basis for the selection.
The Army’s evaluation of Sigmatech’s proposal under the two most important technical/management subfactors was reasonable. The contemporaneous record shows that the evaluators reasonably concluded that the identified strengths did not justify a rating higher than satisfactory. Sigmatech’s argument that its strengths mandated a higher rating is unpersuasive, and represents mere disagreement with the well-documented judgments of the evaluators. Agency evaluators are expected to make judgments about the significance of strengths and weaknesses, rather than assign ratings mechanically. Moreover, GAO notes that ECS also had four strengths under the recruitment/retention subfactor, and the evaluators decided that those strengths did not merit an evaluation above satisfactory. This undercuts the protester’s contentions that offerors were treated unequally here. Since GAO concludes that the record supports the evaluation of Sigmatech’s proposal under the two most important subfactors under the technical/management factor, GAO finds it unnecessary to consider Sigmatech’s remaining arguments. Based on this record, even if Sigmatech’s evaluation were to improve under the two least important evaluation subfactors, ECS would remain higher rated than Sigmatech, and Sigmatech would still have a higher evaluated price. Thus, GAO concludes that Sigmatech would not have been competitively prejudiced by any error in the evaluation of the remaining, less important, subfactors. Accordingly, Sigmatech’s protest is denied.
With respect to SETA‘s protest, the firm argues that both its and ECS’s proposals were misevaluated under essentially every factor and subfactor. In many of its grounds of protest, SETA argues that the Army failed to take into account the firm’s incumbent status, and therefore improperly downgraded its proposal, while improperly rating the proposal of ECS as equal or superior to SETA’s proposal. Again, GAO finds nothing unreasonable about the concerns reflected in the evaluation of SETA’s proposal. Specifically, SETA has not shown that the agency erred by not crediting the firm under the recruitment/retention or transition subfactors because of its relationship with the incumbent. Rather, the Army evaluators reasonably based their evaluation on the content of SETA’s proposal. While the evaluators recognized that SETA’s team members already employed many of the required personnel, they also concluded that SETA’s approach to recruitment and retention and its approach to transition were not sufficiently thorough.
GAO also finds that there was nothing unequal about SETA’s evaluation when compared to the evaluation of ECS. The record supports the evaluators’ conclusions that ECS submitted a more thorough and consistent proposal for recruitment and retention, management approach, and transition, even though ECS acknowledged that it had employment relationships with only a fraction of the incumbent personnel. As discussed above, the evaluators identified specific strengths in ECS’s proposal, considered whether they provided a substantive benefit, and reached a reasoned conclusion about the appropriate rating.
To the extent SETA argues that the price realism analysis was faulty because it relied on relatively small differences between offerors’ rates, total evaluated prices, and the independent government estimate to find SETA’s prices unreasonable, the source selection authority (SSA) made clear in the contemporaneous record that, even if SETA’s prices had been deemed reasonable, ECS’s evaluated superiority over SETA still justified award to ECS at its higher price. The record supports the evaluation under the technical/management and performance risk assessments factors on which the SSA’s judgment was based. Accordingly, GAO has no basis to conclude that any error in the price realism analysis was competitively prejudicial to SETA. GAO will not sustain a protest unless the protester demonstrates a reasonable possibility that it was prejudiced by the agency’s actions, that is, unless the protester demonstrates that, but for the agency’s actions, it would have had a substantial chance of receiving the award.
In conclusion, the record reflects a detailed, well-reasoned, and even-handed evaluation of SETA, Sigmatech, and ECS. The evaluators summarized numerous significant aspects of each proposal under each subfactor, identified strengths and weaknesses, and explained the reasoning for each one. They then made considered judgments about whether those strengths and weaknesses were sufficiently substantive to merit a higher or lower rating. Since the evaluation record here is consistent with the evaluation criteria, GAO has no basis to question it merely because the protesters disagree. The protests are denied.