Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
1. Protest that agency improperly accepted awardee’s plan to hire incumbent personnel based on claim that personnel will be unavailable is denied where there is no significant countervailing evidence reasonably known to agency that should or did create doubt as to accuracy of awardee’s representations regarding hiring plan.
2. Allegation that agency failed to conduct price reasonableness analysis based on claim that awardee’s price was unrealistically low fails to state valid basis for protest where solicitation provided for award of fixed-price contract and did not provide for price realism analysis.
3. Protest that agency misevaluated protester’s proposal is denied where record reasonably supports evaluation and protester’s arguments reflect mere disagreement with agency judgments.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
Applied first asserts that the awardee’s proposal should have received a lower rating under the management plan factor because, according to Applied, the awardee proposed incumbent personnel that the awardee knew or should have known would be unavailable to perform the contract. Applied is the incumbent contractor for the requirement at issue. Applied contends that the incumbent personnel will not be available to perform the protested contract for two reasons. First, Applied asserts that based on the differential between Applied’s and the awardee’s bottom-line prices, the awardee “cannot” offer the same level of employee benefits as Applied, and, therefore, the personnel will be unwilling to agree to employment with the awarde. Second, Applied asserts that Applied itself intends to retain many of the personnel for work on other projects. GAO states that as a general matter, in evaluating proposals an agency may reasonably rely as accurate on information provided by an offeror in its proposal. On the other hand, an agency may not accept representations in a proposal at face value where there is significant countervailing evidence reasonably known to the agency evaluators that should or did create doubt as to whether the representations are accurate.
While it is true, as Applied points out, that the awardee’s proposed staffing approach involves the retention of most of the incumbent workforce, but there is no evidence in the record that the agency knew of Applied’s purported intent to retain the incumbent personnel for work on other projects. Further, Applied is mistaken that the awardee’s comparatively lower bottom-line price necessarily demonstrates that the awardee cannot offer employee benefits equal to those offered by Applied. To the contrary, the awardee’s lower price may reflect a different technical approach, lower overhead costs, or a lower profit margin, rather than a lesser benefits plan. In sum, because GAO sees no significant countervailing evidence in the record that created doubt–or should have created doubt–on the part of the agency as to the accuracy of Applied’s representations regarding the firm’s proposed staffing approach, this protest claim is denied.
Next, Applied alleges that the awardee proposed lower labor rates than did Applied, and, therefore, the awardee will be unable to retain qualified personnel to perform the contract. GAO states that the purpose of a price reasonableness review in a competition for the award of a fixed-price contract is to determine whether the prices offered are too high, as opposed to too low.
Applied’s argument reflects a lack of understanding as to the distinction between price reasonableness and price realism. Arguments, such as the one raised by Applied here, that an agency did not perform an appropriate analysis to determine whether prices are too low such that there may be a risk of poor performance concern price realism. A price realism evaluation is not required where, as here, a solicitation provides for the award of a fixed-price contract and does not include a requirement for a price realism evaluation. Accordingly, GAO dismisses Applied’s allegation because it does not constitute a valid basis of protest.
Finally, Applied asserts that the agency’s evaluation of Applied’s proposal was unreasonable because, in Applied’s view, the agency improperly failed to assign any strengths to the proposal and improperly assigned weaknesses to the proposal. Applied asserts that its proposal should have received a strength under the management plan factor because the proposal described the firm’s 97% personnel retention rate. GAO states that in reviewing a protest against the propriety of an evaluation, it is not GAO’s role to independently evaluate proposals and substitute its judgment for that of the contracting activity. Rather, GAO will review an evaluation to ensure that it was reasonable and consistent with the evaluation criteria in the solicitation and applicable procurement statutes and regulations; a protester’s mere disagreement with the evaluation does not show that it lacked a reasonable basis.
The solicitation announced that offerors’ management plans would be evaluated for the provision of “a clear and concise approach for recruiting, hiring, [and] retaining personnel to include maintaining adequate workforce and filling vacancies.” Applied acknowledges that the firm’s proposal “did not highlight its recruiting and hiring plans.” Given the solicitation’s announcement that an offeror’s recruiting, hiring, and retention approach would be evaluated, and given Applied’s concession that its proposal did not emphasize two of these three elements, GAO does not view as unreasonable the agency’s determination not to assign the proposal a strength related to Applied’s retention rate.
Applied also asserts that the three weaknesses assigned to the firm’s proposal under the management plan factor were unreasonable. In this regard, Applied first argues that the weakness for a failure to include a detailed manpower matrix was improper because the proposal included a staffing matrix.
The solicitation provided that the agency would evaluate whether an offeror’s management plan “provides a manpower matrix with proposed skill sets with the minimum qualifications required . . . to successfully accomplish the PWS tasks.” The staffing matrix in Applied’s proposal does not include proposed skill sets or minimum qualifications. Without citation to any specific sections of its proposal, Applied argues that “[q]ualifications, skill sets, and labor rates are easily found within other areas of [Applied’s] proposal.” It is an offeror’s responsibility to submit a well-written proposal, with adequately detailed information which clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency. The staffing matrix in Applied’s proposal omits information that was called for in the solicitation, and Applied has not adequately explained where the required information appears in the firm’s proposal. Accordingly, GAO views the agency’s determination to assign the proposal a weakness related to this omission as reasonable.
Applied also objects to the weakness its proposal received regarding the proposed program manager’s qualifications. The solicitation states that the program manager must have a Bachelor’s degree or 10 years of documented experience in managing multiple-site, multidisciplinary (i.e., facility and logistics) service support contracts. As the agency explains, the résumé of Applied’s proposed program manager reflects experience from 2005 to 2011 with managing a multidisciplinary contract, but reflects that prior to 2005 her experience was limited to facility coordination functions. In other words, the record shows that the résumé did not reflect 10 years of the type of experience that was specified in the solicitation. Accordingly, GAO sees no basis to question the agency’s judgment that Applied’s proposal deserved a weakness related to the proposed program manager’s qualifications. The protest is denied.