Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Cost Technical Trade-off; Past Performance
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: Selection of higher-rated, higher-priced proposal is unobjectionable where the selection official reasonably determined that awardee’s higher technical rating outweighed the protester’s lower price
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a request for proposals for the operation of a community-based outpatient clinic in Jefferson County, New York. The solicitation provided for the award of a fixed-price contract that was to be awarded on a “best value” basis considering the following three evaluation factors: technical capabilities, past performance, and price. The VA received three proposals, two of which were included in the competitive range: Valor Healthcare, Inc. and Carthage Area Hospital, Inc. (the incumbent contractor). The two proposals were evaluated and the source selection authority, who compared the strengths and weaknesses assessed in the proposals. Valor’s proposal was determined to be technically superior, but Carthage’s proposal was acceptable and lower in price. In a cost-technical trade-off, which is an essential part of a best value determination, the source selection authority determined that Valor’s technical superiority outweighed Carthage’s price advantage. Carthage protested the award on several grounds.
Carthage first objected to the VA’s rating of Valor under the management, experience and staffing subfactor, alleging that Valor failed to adequately describe how it would provide qualified personnel. However, GAO concluded that the record did not provide a basis upon which to object to the VA’s assessment. That particular subfactor was evaluated on more than just the staff proposed by the offeror, instead looking at offeror’s scheduling methods, experience, planned organization, capability and plan to commence performance within required timeframes. Due to Valor’s responsiveness to the subfactor as a whole, GAO determined that the VA’s evaluation related to this charge was reasonable.
Next, Carthage claimed that it should have received a higher rating for the same subfactor due to the fact that it was the incumbent and already had staff in place. The VA countered that its evaluation examined more than just the proposed staff, and that weaknesses in other portions of Carthage’s proposal related to this subfactor caused it to receive its rating. GAO agreed.
Carthage also protested the determination that the location of Valor’s proposed clinic was more favorable than Carthage’s. Again, GAO concluded that the record supported the VA’s finding that Valor’s location offered numerous strengths, causing it to receive a higher rating than Carthage.
Carthage then argued that the agency’s evaluation of Valor’s past performance failed to consider negative past performance information, specifically a report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General that critiqued Valor’s operation of another community-based outpatient clinic. In certain circumstances an agency evaluating an offeror’s proposal has an obligation to consider “outside information” bearing on the offeror’s proposal when it can be shown that the information in question was “simply too close at hand to require offerors to shoulder the inequities that spring from an agency’s failure to obtain, and consider this information.” GAO concluded that the information in question here was not “too close at hand” for the agency to ignore, and thus, the agency was not required to consider the information in its evaluation of Valor’s past performance.
Based on its review of the record, and the determinations described above, GAO concluded that the VA’s evaluation of the proposals in question was not unreasonable, and denied the protest.