Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Qualifying Subcontractor Experience
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: Where a solicitation does not provide otherwise, an agency properly may consider subcontractor’s experience in its evaluation of experience and past performance. Also an agency may base its evaluation of corporate experience on the experience of a proposed subcontractors when the subcontractors are to do the work to which the experience is applicable, if not prohibited by the solicitation.
Belzon, Inc. protests the issuance of a task order to Millennium Systems Services, Inc. pursuant to a request for quotations (RFQ), issued by the Department of the Army, Army Contracting Command, for professional services to support the Aviation and Missile Command’s (AMCOM’s) use of performance-based logistics (PBL) concepts.
The Army originally had established the Expedited Professional and Engineering Support Services (EXPRESS) blanket purchase agreement (BPA) program to procure advisory and assistance services. Under the program, BPAs were issued pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) subpart 8.4 to teams of contractors that offer professional and technical services through various General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contracts. There are four “domains” within the program: business and analytical; logistics; programmatic; and technical.
The agency issued the solicitation to six vendors that hold EXPRESS logistics domain BPAs. The solicitation sought professional services in support of AMCOM’s use of the PBL method of contracting. Vendors were to quote fixed hourly rates for four labor categories specified in the solicitation. The solicitation announced four evaluation criteria: experience; functional approach; price; and socio-economic support. The solicitation instructed vendors to submit up to three examples of experience in support of all aspects of the proposed work statement.
The source selection authority (SSA) ultimately determined that Millennium’s quotation offered the “best value” to the government because paying the price premium associated with Belzon’s quotation was not justified given that Millennium’s functional approach–the sole area in which Millennium’s quotation received a lower rating than Belzon’s quotation–was a “low risk for the Government.”
Belzon first contends that the agency unreasonably assigned Belzon and Millennium equally high ratings in the area of experience. Belzon argues that as the “de facto incumbent,” Belzon had experience with every aspect of the PWS, including the four weapon systems referenced in the solicitation but, Millennium’s quotation does not demonstrate experience with any of those four weapons systems.
Here, the record shows that Belzon’s quotation included one example of relevant experience, whereas Millennium’s quotation included three examples of relevant experience. The protester’s argument that its experience as a “de facto incumbent” is entitled to greater weight than the experience of the Millennium team amounts to mere disagreement with the agency’s evaluation, which does not render it unreasonable. Moreover, the solicitation neither required experience with the four weapon systems referenced in the solicitation, nor limited the scope of work to AMCOM-specific aviation and missile systems. Rather, the solicitation’s scope of work encompassed systems that “may include but are not limited to any aviation or missile system” and “programs and projects [that] may include any Department of Defense weapon or support system.”
Next, Belzon contends that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable because each example of experience in Millennium’s quotation involved work performed by a Millennium team member as a subcontractor, whereas the example of experience in Belzon’s quotation involved work that Belzon performed as a prime contractor. GAO states that where a solicitation does not provide otherwise, an agency properly may consider a vendor’s experience as a subcontractor in its evaluation of experience and past performance. Further, an agency may base its evaluation of corporate experience on the experience of a vendor’s subcontractors when the subcontractors are to do the work to which the experience is applicable, so long as the solicitation allows for the use of subcontractors and does not prohibit the consideration of a subcontractor’s experience in the evaluation. Where a solicitation allows for the use of subcontractors and does not prohibit the consideration of a subcontractor’s experience in the evaluation, the significance of, and the weight to be assigned to, a subcontractor’s corporate experience is a matter of contracting agency discretion.
Here, the solicitation required vendors to identify whether their examples of experience were “performed by the prime, team member and/or subcontractor.” Also, nothing in the solicitation prohibited the agency from considering a vendor’s experience as a subcontractor, nor did the solicitation call for any specific weighting of experience or require that a vendor have experience as a prime contractor in each area of the PWS.
Finally, Belzon argues that the agency’s best value determination was unreasonable because, in Belzon’s view, the record does not support the selection of Millennium’s lower-rated, lower-priced quotation over Belzon’s higher-rated, higher-priced quotation. The extent to which technical superiority is traded for a lower price is governed only by the test of rationality and consistency with the stated evaluation criteria. Where a price/technical tradeoff is made, the source selection decision must be documented, and the documentation must include the rationale for any tradeoffs made, including the benefits associated with additional costs. Even where a solicitation issued under FAR subpart 8.4 emphasizes technical merit over price, an agency properly may select a lower-priced, lower-rated quotation if the agency reasonably concludes that the price premium involved in selecting a higher-rated, higher-priced quotation is not justified in light of the acceptable level of technical competence available at a lower price.
The record here reflects that the evaluators identified and documented–and the SSA considered–specific, individual strengths regarding the experience and functional approaches described in Belzon’s and Millennium’s quotations. The SSA’s source selection decision accurately acknowledges the higher rating that Belzon’s quotation received in the area of functional approach, but concludes that the higher rating does not outweigh Millennium’s price advantage, given that Millennium’s functional approach is “low risk” for the government. GAO finds that the record adequately supports the agency’s source selection. The protest is denied.