Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Interior
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Bias and Bad Faith in Evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: Government officials are presumed to act in good faith, and a protester’s contention that contracting officials are 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.
D’Andre Insurance Services, LLC (DIS) protests the issuance of a purchase order, under a request for quotations (RFQ), issued by the Department of the Interior, for professional services for the Risk Management Agency (RMA), U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The RFQ, issued as a combined synopsis/solicitation under the streamlined commercial item acquisition procedures of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Parts 12.6 and 13, provides for the issuance of a fixed-price purchase order for the evaluation of, and recommended improvements for, the Nursery Crop Insurance Program, which is administered by RMA, and recommendations for alternative designs for providing insurance for nursery crops. A detailed statement of work (SOW) was provided. Vendors were informed that the purchase order would be issued on a best value basis considering the following factors: technical approach, project management, past performance, and price.
The protester’s unacceptable rating under the technical approach factor reflected the evaluators’ judgment that DIS failed to demonstrate knowledge of how the nursery crop insurance program currently works and that the protester’s quotation contained a deficiency and numerous weaknesses. The agency found that the protester’s quotation was deficient with respect to addressing how it would conduct the evaluation of the current program, because DIS’s only discussion of developing alternatives was with respect to establishing maximum insurable prices for each insurable nursery plant. Among the weaknesses noted was that DIS’s approach reflected excessive effort in some regards; for example, DIS indicated it would conduct a week-long kickoff meeting with RMA, but that this was usually accomplished through a 1-2 hour teleconference. As another example, DIS indicated it would have three individuals prepare and attend each listening session, which the evaluators found excessive. Also, the evaluators expressed concern that DIS proposed conducting a review of underwriting after its review of loss adjustment standards, which the evaluators found was not a logical sequence.
DIS broadly challenges its rating under each of the non-price factors, disagreeing with the agency’s technical judgments and asserting that the agency’s evaluation of its quotation reflected bias and bad faith. GAO states that in reviewing protests challenging an agency’s evaluation of quotations, it will not conduct a new evaluation or substitute its judgment for that of the agency; rather it will examine the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria, and with procurement statutes and regulations. Government officials are presumed to act in good faith, and a protester’s contention that contracting officials are 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.
Here, the protester’s arguments reflect nothing more than disagreement with the agency’s judgment as to the merits of the firm’s quotation. As noted above, the agency found that the protester’s quotation was deficient with respect to addressing how it would conduct the evaluation of the current program, because DIS only discussed alternatives to establishing maximum insurable prices for each insurable nursery plant. DIS disagrees with the assigned deficiency, arguing that developing alternatives can only be done after performing the program evaluation, and that, in any event, its quotation provided a preliminary discussion of developing alternatives. There is no merit to this argument. Vendors were instructed to discuss their approach to performing the SOW evaluation and recommendation requirements, which included, among other things, providing alternative methods for establishing liability on fluctuating nursery inventory, indemnifying nursery producers, and establishing the maximum insurable price.
Similarly, DIS disagrees with the agency’s assignment of weaknesses in the firm’s quotation. For example, with respect to the agency concern that DIS had proposed excessive effort to perform this work and failed to demonstrate knowledge of the current program, DIS argues that the “resources needed is a professional determination” and that it has experienced insurance professionals, and not “academics or economists.” As noted above, arguments such as these that only disagree with the agency’s judgment do not demonstrate that the agency unreasonably evaluated the firm’s quotation. GAO finds that the agency reasonably rejected the protester’s quotation, given that the record supports the agency’s determination that the quotation was deficient and contained a number of weaknesses.
DIS also argues that the awardee’s quotation should not have been found technically acceptable, because the awardee is comprised of economists and not insurance professionals and horticulturalists. GAO finds no merit to the protester’s contention that the awardee’s quotation should have been found technically unacceptable. Here, the RFQ provided for the evaluation of the qualifications of vendors’ key personnel. The agency found, and in fact assessed as a strength, the qualifications of the awardee’s proposed key personnel, who the evaluators found had both a nursery and crop insurance background. DIS has provided nothing to show that the agency’s evaluation judgment was unreasonable. In this regard, although DIS argues that a firm must have actuarial credentials to perform the SOW work, it cites to no specific language in the RFQ or SOW to establish that this is so. The protest is denied.