Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: In order to satisfy its obligation to conduct meaningful discussions, an agency must lead offerors into the areas of their proposals that reflect deficiencies or significant weaknesses.
Ahtna Facility Services, Inc. (AFSI) protests the Department of the Army’s exclusion of AFSI’s proposal from the competitive range under a request for proposals (RFP) to provide healthcare environmental services for the San Antonio Military Medical Center-North (SAMMC-N) and other medical facilities at or around Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
The solicitation contemplated award of an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contract under which fixed-price task orders will be issued to perform various services, including: housekeeping services; collection and distribution of linens; collection, consolidation, packaging, labeling, and preparation of regulated medical waste; collection of general solid waste; collection and transport of recyclable materials; and exterior building services, such as window cleaning and snow removal. The solicitation provided that the agency would use “the Lowest Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA) source selection technique” and, consistent with this approach, established two evaluation factors: technical acceptability and price.
Proposals were submitted by several offerors, including AFSI. The agency subsequently evaluated AFSI’s initial proposal as technically unacceptable, identifying 19 deficiencies, 4 significant weaknesses, and 8 weaknesses. Despite the multiple flaws in AFSI’s initial proposal, the agency retained AFSI’s proposal in the competitive range and, by letter, opened discussions with AFSI, specifically outlining the various evaluated proposal deficiencies and significant weaknesses. Among other things, the agency’s letter expressly advised AFSI that its procedures manual was deficient in that it “did not include the seven (7) types of services [identified in the PWS],” “failed to include performance standards,” and “failed to include meaningful and measurable performance metrics.” Thereafter, the agency evaluated the revised proposal and concluded that AFSI had resolved some of the multiple proposal flaws, but that many remained. Based on the existence of the ongoing deficiencies in AFSI’s revised proposal, the agency determined that the proposal remained technically unacceptable and excluded it from the competitive range.
AFSI first asserts that its proposal “provided all of the information required by the [s]olicitation and the PWS” and that, “[h]ad the agency properly and fairly evaluated AFSI’s [revised proposal], the proposal would have been deemed acceptable.” GAO states that agencies are required to evaluate offers in accordance with a solicitation’s stated requirements and evaluation criteria. Where a dispute exists as to the actual requirements of a solicitation, GAO will first examine the plain language of the solicitation.
Under the heading “Technical Acceptability,” the solicitation expressly directed offerors to “[p]rovide a Procedures Manual or equivalent that includes all of the elements in the PWS.” Based on the record, GAO finds no merit in AFSI’s assertion that the agency’s assessment of a deficiency was improper because the solicitation “did not require” AFSI’s procedures manual to individually address the procedures to be employed for the seven types of required services. To the contrary, upon review of the solicitation provisions discussed GAO determined that AFSI’s obligations were clearly stated. Accordingly, AFSI’s assertion that the solicitation “did not require” AFSI to address each required PWS service is without merit.
AFSI asserts that the agency failed to conduct meaningful discussions with AFSI with regard to the solicitation requirements to provide performance standards and metrics. GAO states that when discussions are conducted, they must be meaningful. In order to satisfy its obligation to conduct meaningful discussions, an agency must lead offerors into the areas of their proposals that reflect deficiencies or significant weaknesses; that is, an agency must identify aspects of an offeror’s proposal that, unless further addressed, would prevent the offeror from having a reasonable chance for award.
Here, the record shows that the agency’s discussions specifically reminded AFSI that its proposal would be evaluated to determine whether the required services “will be consistently performed in a standardized method with established performance standards and performance metrics.” Further, the agency told AFSI that its initial proposal “failed to include performance standards aligned with Association for Healthcare Environment (AHE) and in compliance with SAMMC-N Pam[phlet] 40?2, Infection Control Manual, to meet the PWS requirements.” Finally, the agency also specifically advised AFSI that its proposal “failed to include meaningful and measureable performance metrics that meet or exceed the AHE Practice Guidance for Healthcare Environmental Cleaningstandards as required in PWS 126.96.36.199.” On this record GAO finds no reasonable basis for AFSI to assert that it was confused and/or reasonably believed that its submission of quality control procedures was adequate to meet the solicitation’s requirements to submit performance standards and metrics to measure the acceptability of contract performance. AFSI’s assertion that it was reasonably misled by the agency’s discussions in this regard, or that the discussions were otherwise inadequate, is without merit. The protest is denied.