Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Justice
Disposition: Protest sustained.
Keywords: Blanket purchase agreement, Meaningful discussions
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: When an agency engages in discussions with a vendor, the discussions must be “meaningful,” that is, sufficiently detailed to lead the vendor into the areas of its quotation requiring amplification or revision.
In response to the establishment, by the Department of Justice, of a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) with Privasoft Corporation, AINS, Inc. protested to the GAO arguing that DOJ’s evaluation of quotations was unreasonable and lacking in even-handedness and that there was a failure to conduct meaningful discussions. Following a request for quotations by DOJ, and a series of protests and reevaluations, Privasoft was selected to receive the BPA for an automated Freedom of Information Act system and related services.
After receiving initial quotes, the DOJ issued a series of requests to each offeror for additional information, including a request that AINS submit a new project schedule. DOJ did not explain that it believed that AINS’s project schedule was unattainable. Despite remedying some of the flaws in its proposal, AINS’s resubmitted proposal still contained certain weaknesses. Further, the evaluators concluded that, even though Privasoft’s proposal was at a higher price, that the superiority of Privasoft’s product and technical approach outweighed the price differential.
In response to the award of the BPA to Privasoft, AINS protested by arguing that the evaluators failed to conduct meaningful discussions by failing to advise that they considered the schedule to be overly aggressive. GAO noted that, in order for discussions to be meaningful, they must be sufficiently detailed to lead the offeror into the areas of the quotation that require amplification or revision. The facts of this record indicate that while DOJ requested a new schedule from AINS, this was not a sufficient effort on behalf of the evaluators to indicate to AINS that its schedule was too aggressive. As such, GAO agreed with AINS on its claim regarding the lack of meaningful discussions and sustained AINS’s protest on unequal discussions
AINS also challenged DOJ’s evaluation of its quotation as being unreasonable and asserted that DOJ was not even-handed in its assessment. Here, GAO again agreed with AINS, finding that several areas of its evaluation were not consistent in how it rated each quotation. In particular, AINS pointed to DOJ finding AINS’s reduction of level of effort as inadequate. Because the evaluators seemingly did not rely on any other evidence in determining this adequacy beyond merely noting a reduction in level of effort from its initial quotation to its final quotation, this was an improper determination. Additionally, AINS also argued that DOJ’s evaluators unequally assigned ratings to its quotation and that of Privasoft based on a series of technical matters related to the software. Again, GAO agreed with AINS by analyzing the steps taken by the evaluators in judging the product evaluation factor and determining that the weight and rationale behind the evaluators’ treatment of the two quotations was varied.
Based on its agreement with both of AINS’s arguments, GAO sustained the protested and recommended that DOJ reopen discussions as appropriate, reevaluate proposals, and make a new source selection decision.