Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Energy
Disposition: Protest denied.
Protestor’s challenge to agency’s technical evaluation of its quotation in response to solicitation for technical support services is denied where the record shows that the agency’s evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
The FSS program gives federal agencies a simplified process for obtaining commonly used commercial supplies and services. Where, as here, an agency issues an RFQ under FAR Subpart 8.4 and conducts a competition, GAO will review the record to ensure that the agency’s evaluation is reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation. In a competitive FSS procurement, it is the vendor’s burden to submit a quotation that is adequately written and establishes the merits of the quotation. In reviewing an agency’s technical evaluation of vendor submissions under an RFQ, GAO will not reevaluate the quotations; GAO will only consider whether the agency’s evaluation was reasonable and in accord with the evaluation criteria listed in the solicitation and applicable procurement statutes and regulations. A protester’s mere disagreement with the agency’s judgment does not establish that an evaluation was unreasonable. Based on GAO’s review of the record here, it concludes that DEI’s challenges to the agency’s evaluation of its quotation amount to little more than disagreement with the agency’s judgment and fails to establish that the evaluation was unreasonable.
As set forth in the RFQ, each quotation was to provide a brief narrative technical proposal outlining the offeror’s planned approach to the 10 task areas (5.1-5.10) identified in the statement of work (SOW). Offerors were to use the technical proposal to demonstrate their knowledge, background, and experience relative to the task areas. The technical proposal was also to demonstrate the proposed organizational structure, commitment to provide necessary resources, approach to planning and staffing, and schedule and cost controls. Offerors were advised that each proposal will be evaluated based on the offeror’s demonstrated understanding of the depth and complexity of the work to be performed. When demonstrating their technical approach to performing . . . offerors should clearly delineate the uniqueness that would separate their technical approach from another offeror’s technical proposal.
The TEC evaluated DEI’s quotation as having two significant weaknesses under the technical proposal evaluation factor. The first significant weakness was that DEI’s quotation failed to demonstrate understanding of tasks 5.1-5.8 and 5.10, and merely reiterated or slightly rephrased the task areas as described in the SOW. The second significant weakness was that, with regard to task area 5.9, commissioning, DEI stated that it had a unique approach, but failed to further describe its approach or to demonstrate an understanding of the depth and complexity of the work. DEI attempts to generally rebut the TEC’s assessment of significant weaknesses under the technical proposal evaluation factor by stating that it is an approved DOE contractor and is on the nationwide list of approved DOE contractors for this type of work . . . and has been approved by the General Services Administration (GSA) as an authorized service provider for this type of work. However, this argument does not address the agency’s determination that DEI’s quotation merely repeated the SOW with regard to nine of the 10 identified task areas, and represents mere disagreement with the agency’s evaluation. Notwithstanding DEI’s status as an approved contractor or claimed ability to perform the requirements of the SOW, in a competitive FSS procurement it is the quoting firm’s responsibility to submit an adequately written quotation that establishes the quotation’s merits. Consistent with the agency’s findings, GAO’s review of the record shows that DEI’s technical approach to tasks 5.1-5.8 and 5.10 was largely a restatement of task descriptions in the SOW. Similarly, with regard to task area 5.9, commissioning, GAO’s review of DEI’s quotation supports the agency’s view that DEI’s approach to the task area consisted largely of a non-specific list of steps involved in the commissioning process, and failed to demonstrate the level of understanding contemplated by the RFQ. Moreover, while DEI stated that its unique commissioning approach ensures that buildings meet the design intent, and operate as was designed and specified in the construction documents, it provided no further information to demonstrate that its commissioning approach was unique. Based on DEI’s failure to present more than mere disagreement in its challenges to the agency’s evaluation of its quotation under the technical proposal factor, as well as GAO’s review of the record, GAO finds nothing unreasonable about the agency’s assessment under this evaluation factor.
The RFQ identified two key personnel for the key personnel and staffing plan requirement, a project manager and a senior engineer, and stated that each offeror was to provide resumes for all proposed key personnel showing that they meet or exceed the stated qualifications for the position. The project manager position required a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 10 years of engineering or scientific project management experience. The proposed project manager was to be experienced in problem solving, with experience in developing and administering government multi-year, task oriented support projects. The proposed project manager also was expected to have knowledge of and experience with DOE policies, functional requirements, regulatory compliance support; and capabilities as related to briefing and presentation support, document review and evaluation, program planning and evaluation support, document preparation support, and meeting support. Additionally, offerors were required to submit a staffing plan, which will demonstrate: approach to staffing the contract with a quality and stable workforce employed under the contract; ability to recruit, retain, and provide highly skilled qualified personnel, both key and non-key, who meet or exceed all requirements; how it will assure that the required number of qualified personnel will be available at start-up.
The TEC evaluated DEI’s quotation as having three significant weaknesses under this evaluation factor. The first significant weakness was that DEI failed to designate an individual for the senior engineer key personnel position, the second was that DEI’s proposed project manager’s resume did not demonstrate that he met all required position qualifications, and the third was that DEI failed to submit a staffing plan as required by the RFQ. DEI argues that the first significant weakness is totally unsupported, as DEI’s quotation clearly indicates that it proposed six registered professional engineers who, by all industry standards, are considered to be senior engineers. The record, however, shows that while DEI did provide brief resumes for six proposed engineers, it failed to indicate which of those engineers it was proposing to fill the senior engineer position. Given that DEI’s quotation did not designate any particular individual for that key personnel position, as required by the RFQ, we see no basis to object to the agency’s assessment of a significant weakness in this area.
With regard to the second significant weakness, DEI argues that the TEC evaluation is unreasonable because DEI’s proposed project manager served as key personnel and as the engineer of record on the previous contract for this requirement and was associated with the incumbent firm until March 2006. As with DEI’s challenges to the agency’s evaluation under the technical proposal evaluation factor, this argument fails to address the basis for the TEC’s assessment of the significant weakness: that the proposed project manager’s resume failed to demonstrate that he met the key position’s qualification requirements. The resume of DEI’s proposed project manager consisted of a half-page narrative statement of the project manager’s years of experience, recent projects, and industry certifications. Although this narrative stated that the proposed project manager had been a key member under the previous contract, and had served as a project manager and lead engineer on other commissioning and energy projects, it failed to specifically address the position qualification requirements set forth in the RFQ, and we thus see no basis to find the TEC’s assessment of a significant weakness unreasonable.
DEI asserts that the third significant weakness, that it failed to submit a staffing plan, is also unsupported and that its quotation clearly included a staffing plan that addressed recruitment. GAO’s review of the record, however, supports the agency’s determination. While DEI’s quotation included a three-paragraph section entitled staffing plan, that section failed to address the specific requirements of the staffing plan as identified in the RFQ, and instead made blanket assertions that DEI’s key personnel are ready to devote a significant percentage of their time to the project and will be available throughout the contract period. The organizational chart included in DEI’s quotation similarly failed to provide the information required by the RFQ; it merely indicated the names of the staff proposed for engineering positions, and provided no detail regarding the portion of the chart labeled Technical and Administrative Support Staff, which, as set out in the RFQ, included four categories of non-key, non-engineer personnel. Given that the record supports the agency’s findings regarding DEI’s quotation under the key personnel and staffing plan factor, GAO sees no basis to object to the agency’s evaluation under that factor.
The RFQ stated that [o]fferors will provide a minimum of three references for similar type(s) of work performed for U.S. government clients within the last three years. The TEC assessed one significant weakness against DEI’s proposal under this evaluation factor, on the basis that all of DEI’s past performance references related to commissioning, which was just one of the 10 tasks identified in the SOW. DEI challenges this assessment by essentially repeating its contention that DEI is on the national list of DOE’s approved energy service companies and is a GSA schedule holder for energy services, demonstrating that DEI is qualified to perform as required under the SOW. As before, this argument fails to respond to the specific basis for the significant weakness assessed by the TEC. In this regard, the record demonstrates that DEI supplied six past performance references in its quotation, each of which related to DEI’s work as a commissioning authority, and none of which demonstrates past performance related to any of the other nine task areas described in the SOW. Accordingly, GAO has no basis to object to the agency’s evaluation under the past performance factor.
In view of DEI’s failure to rebut the specific findings underlying the significant weaknesses assessed against its quotation, and based on GAO’s review of the record, GAO finds no basis to conclude that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable. The protest is denied.