Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
1. Protest challenging agency’s evaluation of protester’s proposal is denied where the agency’s evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the evaluation criteria.
2. Protest that awardee’s proposal should have been rejected for failing to comply with solicitation small business participation goals is denied where agency reasonably concluded that awardee complied with the small business participation goals.
3. Protest that agency evaluator was biased in favor of awardee and against the protester is denied where the record shows no evidence that the evaluator in question exerted improper influence on behalf of the awardee or against the protester.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
CAE complains that Army should have assigned higher adjectival ratings to the protester’s proposal under the management factor and subfactors. Specifically, CAE argues that under the RFP’s adjectival rating scheme the agency was required to assign a highly satisfactory rating to its proposal under the management factor, because the agency identified no weaknesses or other substantive disadvantages in the firm’s proposal. GAO states that in reviewing protests of alleged improper evaluations and source selection decisions, it is not GAO’s role to reevaluate submissions; rather, it will examine the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws and regulations. In this regard, agencies use of evaluation ratings for offerors’ proposals, whether numeric, color, or adjectival, are but guides to, and not substitutes for, intelligent decision-making; they do not mandate automatic selection of a particular proposal. A protester’s mere disagreement with an agency’s judgment is not sufficient to establish that an agency acted unreasonably.
Here, CAE’s arguments provide no basis to object to the agency’s evaluation. The agency found that SAIC’s proposal had a number of significant strengths and numerous other strengths under the more important integrated master plan and cost control subfactors. In contrast, CAE’s proposal was found to have a number of strengths, but no significant strengths under these subfactors. The agency’s determination that SAIC’s proposal was superior to CAE’s is based upon this judgment. Although CAE disagrees that SAIC’s proposal is superior to CAE’s under this factor, this disagreement does not show the agency’s judgment is unreasonable. Moreover, the protester’s assertion that the agency did not identify any weaknesses with respect to its proposal is misplaced, as it is an agency’s qualitative findings in connection with its evaluation of proposals that govern the reasonableness of an agency’s assessment of offerors’ proposals.
The protester argues that the agency misevaluated SAIC’s proposal under the management factor, where SAIC failed to team with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to meet express and “implicit” RFP requirements.
GAO finds that the agency’s evaluation of SAIC’s proposal in this area was reasonable and consistent with the RFP requirements. Contrary to the protester’s arguments, the RFP did not require offerors to team with OEMs. In this regard, the agency’s evaluators found that SAIC’s proposed approach to interacting with the Government Program Office and with confederate programs and the key subsystem suppliers was adequate. Specifically, the evaluators noted that SAIC provided for an integrated approach that would ensure effective communication between the government, confederate programs, other programs, and SAIC team participants. The record also shows that the agency reasonably accounted for the costs associated with SAIC’s proposed approach.
CAE complains that SAIC’s proposal does not comply with the RFP’s requirement that offerors subcontract 20% of the total contract value to small businesses and that the agency improperly relaxed this requirement for SAIC.
GAO does not agree with CAE that SAIC failed to comply with the solicitation’s small business participation requirements. As noted above, SAIC specifically committed itself to subcontracting at least [Deleted] percent of the total contract value to small businesses in each year of the contract. To demonstrate its compliance with this requirement, SAIC identified the percentage of total contract value it would subcontract to various small business type entities and the dollar values associated with these percentages. Consistent with the agency’s FedBizOpps solicitation notice, SAIC used the program of record funding to illustrate how it would satisfy these goals. Given the notice’s instruction to offerors to base their proposals upon the program of record anticipated funding; GAO cannot say that this was unreasonable.
GAO also finds reasonable the agency’s judgment that SAIC’s proposal was outstanding under the small business participation plan factor and that CAE’s was highly satisfactory. The RFP stated that an offeror’s small business participation plan would be evaluated under six separate criteria, including an offeror’s extent of commitment, complexity and variety of work small firms are to perform, and the offeror’s past performance in complying with the requirement. The Army found that SAIC demonstrated an excellent approach that would clearly result in the superior attainment of proposed small business goals. SAIC’s plan was evaluated as having four significant strengths involving its robust corporate small business development program, its demonstrated corporate commitment, its incentive programs and its numerous awards for outstanding performance in this area. SAIC’s plan was also evaluated as having five strengths, involving its executed teaming agreements, long-term relationships with small business concerns, and its corporate policy that ensures compliance. In contrast, CAE’s subcontracting plan was evaluated as having only one significant strength and four strengths.
CAE also contends that SAIC’s proposal was unacceptable and should have been rejected because SAIC’s accounting system had not been approved by Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) as required by the RFP. GAO finds that the agency reasonably concluded that SAIC’s accounting system was adequate for determining costs in a cost-type contract. The determination regarding the adequacy of an offeror’s cost accounting system is a matter of an offeror’s responsibility. The determination of a prospective contractor’s responsibility rests within the broad discretion of the contracting officer, who, in making that decision, must necessarily rely on his or her business judgment.
The protester argues that one of the evaluators was biased in favor of SAIC and against CAE. GAO states that contracting agencies, as a general matter, are responsible for reviewing potential conflicts of interest posed by relationships between evaluators and offerors in order to ensure impartiality in the evaluation and to preserve the integrity of the procurement process. Where, as here, a protester infers that agency officials are biased because of their past experiences or relationships, we focus on whether the individuals involved exerted improper influence in the procurement on behalf of the awardee, or against the protester.
The evaluator at issue here was one of four evaluators on the panel evaluating proposals under the management evaluation factor. The record shows that the evaluator was employed by SAIC until October 9, 2009, and that he was employed by the Army on October 13, 2009. In his first year employment with the Army, the evaluator worked in a program office, and was assigned to the SE Core CVEM program beginning in October 2010. The evaluator currently has no direct or indirect financial interest in SAIC, no stock ownership in SAIC, any 401(k) or non-401 (k) interest in SAIC, and no family members working for SAIC. There is no evidence of bias in the record on the part of the evaluator–either against CAE or for SAIC. A protester’s claim that contracting officials were motivated by bias or bad faith must be supported by convincing proof; GAO will not attribute unfair or prejudicial motives to procurement officials on the basis of inference or supposition. The protest is denied.