Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Federal Emergency Management Agency
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Technical Evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: In reviewing protests of alleged improper evaluations and source selections, GAO examines the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws.
Business Management Associates protests the award of a contract, under a request for proposals (RFP), issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for hazard mitigation training assistance.
The RFP, issued as a competitive section 8(a) set-aside, provided for the award of an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contract for a base year and four option years, under which the agency would issue either fixed-price or cost-plus-fixed-fee task orders. Offerors were informed that the contractor would provide technical assistance to the agency in the development of training materials and instruction and with respect to modernizing and streamlining its training activities. In this regard, four objectives were stated, including training development and maintenance of multi-day courses, training instruction on a variety of technical and non-technical subjects, development of presentations to effectively communicate technical and non-technical information, and technical advisement. The RFP provided that award would be made on a best-value basis, considering the following four equally-weighted technical evaluation factors: technical approach, qualifications of key personnel, past performance, and oral presentation.
Proposals were evaluated by the agency’s source evaluation board (SEB), which assigned adjectival ratings and identified underlying strengths, weaknesses, deficiencies, and risks. BMA’s overall good technical rating was supported by a narrative discussion that identified a number of strengths and only a few weaknesses in the protester’s proposal. Under the qualifications of key personnel factor, for which BMA was rated good, the SEB noted as a weakness that BMA had not provided information on the experience, education, and certifications of the staff that it would provide for training material and presentation development and for web-based training development. With respect to the oral presentation, for which BMA was also rated good, the SEB noted a number of strengths and that a slow internet connection stalled BMA’s presentation, which affected the firm’s ability to effectively communicate; the SEB expressed concern about BMA’s lack of a backup plan for its oral presentation.
BMA’s business proposal was evaluated as unacceptable, because the SEB noted as a deficiency that BMA had not estimated a level of effort to perform RFP objective four (technical advisement). The SEB also noted one minor weakness and no strengths. Because BMA’s business proposal was rated as unacceptable, the SEB reduced BMA’s overall good technical rating to an acceptable rating. The SEB ultimately recommended award to another offeror based upon that firm’s overall excellent technical rating and good business proposal rating.
BMA complains that its proposal should have been rated as excellent (instead of good) under the qualifications of key personnel and oral presentation factors; that its business (cost/price) proposal should not have been rated as unacceptable; and that the awardee’s proposal should not have been rated as excellent under the past performance factor, because the awardee’s identified projects were smaller than the contract work here. GAO states that in reviewing protests of alleged improper evaluations and source selections, GAO examines the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws. It is an offeror’s responsibility to submit a well-written proposal, with adequately detailed information which clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency. In this regard, an offeror must affirmatively demonstrate the merits of its proposal, and risks the rejection of its proposal if it fails to do so. A protester’s mere disagreement with the agency’s evaluation provides no basis to question the reasonableness of the evaluators’ judgments.
With respect to BMA’s challenge to the weakness assessed against its proposal under the qualification of key personnel evaluation factor, the record shows that the agency viewed favorably the people BMA designated as key, but was concerned that, since there were no key personnel identified on the training teams, there was no information on the experience, education, and certifications of team members for the agency to assess. As a result, BMA’s proposal did not get the highest possible rating. GAO thinks that the agency could reasonably consider under this factor whether an offeror had proposed sufficient key personnel to perform the contract work. Here, the RFP did not specify how many, or which, positions were to be considered key, but expected offerors to make this determination themselves. Determining whether an offeror has proposed sufficient key personnel in the right labor categories is reasonably encompassed within a factor that provides for assessing the quality of proposed key personnel. Here, BMA’s proposal relied upon a very general description of its “teams,” but did not provide the specific qualifications and experience information required for key personnel. GAO finds no basis to object to FEMA’s assignment of a weakness, and a good rating, for BMA’s proposal under the qualifications of key personnel factor.
BMA also objects to the SEB’s rating of BMA’s oral presentation as good, based upon the SEB’s finding that BMA’s presentation was stalled by a slow internet connection, which the evaluators found diminished the firm’s ability to communicate effectively. The evaluators also noted that BMA had no apparent backup plan for this contingency. The RFP cautioned offerors that each firm was responsible for ensuring that any equipment required for the oral presentation was available and working properly for their presentation. BMA apparently planned its oral presentation based on the assumption that it would have a fast internet connection available. As the agency notes in its report, the oral presentation was intended to create a mock classroom situation. Since any of the various nationwide locations where the contractor would provide training could also lack a fast internet connection, GAO thinks it was reasonable for the agency to consider BMA’s performance under these circumstances to represent a weakness, and to rate the firm’s proposal accordingly.
BMA also protests FEMA’s evaluation of the awardee’s proposal as excellent under the past performance factor. The RFP informed offerors that the agency would assess under this factor “how well the offeror did on work for the government and private sector clients,” and that the evaluation would “include assessments of the offeror’s resilience to adversity, resourcefulness, and management determination to see that the organization lived up to commitments and standards.” In this regard, offerors were instructed to provide contact information for three businesses or agencies for which the offeror “performed similar work to the requirements of the RFP.” The RFP did not define what work would be similar to the contract requirements, nor did the solicitation require that projects identified by an offeror be similar in size, complexity and scope to the contract requirements. GAO states that where a solicitation calls for the evaluation of past performance, GAO will examine the record to ensure that the evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria and procurement statutes and regulations. The evaluation of past performance, by its very nature, is subjective; an offeror’s mere disagreement with the agency’s evaluation judgments does not demonstrate that those judgments are unreasonable.
Although it is true that offeror’s identified projects are relatively smaller than the contract work here, the projects the offeror identified for its past performance appear to involve the same work performed for the same agency. In these circumstances, GAO thinks it is within the contracting agency’s discretion to conclude that substantially similar work, performed for the same agency but under smaller contracts, need not be disregarded based on size alone, where the solicitation does not emphasize the importance of magnitude of prior projects in the evaluation of past performance. The protest is denied.