Washington Business Journal by Lee Dougherty, Attorney, General Counsel PC
Date: Friday, March 23, 2012, 8:47am EDT
Increasingly, agencies are looking for prime contractors who are more than just managers: Who can actually perform the work required under the solicitation, rather than rely disproportionately on partners.
Protesting contractor: Digicon Corp., Rockville; and Intelligent Decisions Inc. Ashburn
Contracting agency: Department Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Protest issue: You can’t get experience vicariously from your subcontractors.
GAO decision, March 5, 2012: Denied.
Post-mortem: Digicon and Intelligent Decision both protested their exclusion from the competitive range for award of a contract for information technology support services, arguing that the agency falsely questioned their technical abilities to meet the stated requirements.
But according to NIH, both companies relied too heavily on the experience of their subcontractors in an attempt to be considered – which the solicitation clearly stated to be unacceptable – and did not have, or failed to show, the necessary experience to do the job.
Both protestors, in attempts to hide the weaknesses of their proposals, argued that the meaning of words used in their proposals was misconstrued. Digicon argued that although “Digicon Team” included its proposed subcontractors, in some parts it just meant Digicon, and the agency should have known that. Intelligent Decisions argued that the agency should have ignored to plain meaning of “consultant” and considered that to mean their employees.
Both of these protestors are well established government contractors with a history of past performance. But both failed to comply with the terms of the solicitation and both failed to submit proposals that were clear. First and foremost, contractors should decide whether they can truly meet the qualifications required of a solicitation before expending valuable resources in preparing a proposal, and then formulate a bid that makes that fact clear to the agency. Otherwise they may find themselves arguing semantics in hopes of getting a second chance to compete.