Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Homeland Security
Disposition: Protest denied.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
GAO denied the protest of Burke Consortium, Inc., based on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) decision not to award Burke a contract under a request for proposals (RFP) for information technology services.
The RFP provided for multiple awards of indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts for the second generation of the agency’s enterprise acquisition gateway for leading-edge solutions (EAGLE II) program, under which fixed-price, cost reimbursement, time and materials, or labor hour task orders for department-wide information technology services will be issued for a five-year base period and a single two-year option period. The SOW identified three functional categories for which an offeror could be selected for award, and advised offerors that they could only submit a proposal for one of these functional categories.
The protest concerns the agency’s selection for award, under the small business set-aside track and functional category 3, of eight offerors, including Gnostech Inc. of Warminster, Pennsylvania, TestPros, Inc. of Sterling, Virginia, and the Mason Harriman Group of Towaco, New Jersey. Offerors under the small business set-aside track were informed that awards would be made on a best value basis considering price and the following non-price factors, stated in descending order of importance: corporate experience, past performance, program management, and staffing. The non-price factors, when combined, were significantly more important than price. Specifically, with regard to the past performance factor, offerors were instructed to provide past performance information for five recent, relevant contracts, task orders, and/or subcontracts, that were directly related to the services required under the functional category. This information was to include a brief narrative statement for each reference and a completed questionnaire submitted by each reference for each contract, task order, or subcontract cited. In this regard, offerors were informed that they were responsible for ensuring that each reference received, completed, and submitted the questionnaire directly to the agency’s contracting officer. Offerors were advised that failure to receive a questionnaire would result in the reference not being considered, but that the agency may, at its discretion, consider a reference if the offeror demonstrated an earnest attempt to collect the required information.
The protester first challenged the agency’s price evaluation, arguing that DHS failed to reasonably consider the realism of Gnostech’s low price and ceiling labor rates. Burke argued that the SSEB merely repeated the TEP’s evaluated ratings without conducting an integrated review of whether Gnostech’s significantly lower price reflected the awardee’s understanding of the contract requirements. However, GAO found that the agency’s price evaluation, including its realism assessment of Gnostech’s proposed price and ceiling rates, was reasonable and consistent with the RFP’s stated evaluation criteria. In accordance with the RFP, the agency assessed whether offerors’ low prices or rates indicated a lack of understanding or performance risk. In this regard, DHS’s price realism analysis was consistent with price analysis techniques provided in FAR § 15.404-1(b)(2), which includes comparison with other prices received under the solicitation and comparison of proposed prices with IGEs. The PEP compared each offeror’s total evaluated price to the others received, as well as to the median prices, to identify outlier (high or low) pricing that indicated a lack of understanding of the work requirements or that otherwise provided performance risk to the agency.
Burke also protested DHS’s past performance evaluation, arguing that the agency should not have assigned favorable past performance ratings to offerors, such as Gnostech, that did not have five completed past performance questionnaires. The agency’s evaluation of offerors’ past performance, including Gnostech’s, was based not only on questionnaires received, but on PPIRS evaluations and offerors’ descriptions of their relevant contract, task order, or subcontract experience, GAO noted. The TEP’s assignment of evaluation ratings, and of strengths and weaknesses in this area, was supported by extensive narrative discussions. In this respect, the TEP noted as a weakness that Gnostech provided only four narratives for its five past performance references. Although Burke disagreed with the TEP’s evaluation ratings, it has not identified any aspect of its past performance that establishes that Burke’s proposal should have been found superior to the proposals submitted by other offerors–nor does Burke challenge the relevance of Gnostech’s or other awardees’ past performance, GAO concluded.
Finally, Burke protested DHS’s selection decisions, asserting that the agency’s tradeoff analysis was flawed because it was based on evaluations that, according to the protester’s arguments described above, were unreasonable, but GAO found that there was no merit to Burke’s objections to the agency’s technical and price evaluations. Thus, there was no basis to question the agency’s reliance upon those evaluation judgments in making its source selections. GAO also found that the agency reasonably considered the merits of the firms’ proposals based upon the firms’ respective evaluated strengths, weaknesses, and deficiencies. In this regard, the agency reasonably determined that Burke’s proposal was not worth the price premium over other offerors’ similarly rated, but significantly lower-priced proposals.