Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Social Security Administration
Disposition: Protests denied.
Protest that agency misevaluated quotations in response to solicitation for computer workstations is denied where record shows that agency’s evaluation was in accordance with terms of solicitation and applicable statutes and regulations.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
Dell asserts that the agency did not adequately document its evaluation conclusions in its section 508 compliance review. According to the protester, the agency merely gave evaluation credit to vendors for the self-representations on their VPATS, without reviewing in detail the content of the submissions, and assigned point scores for compliance with the various standards without identifying the underlying rationale.
GAO finds that this argument is without merit. In this regard, the record shows that the agency’s evaluators engaged in a protracted review of the vendors’ VPAT submissions, during which they repeatedly sought additional information where they identified deficiencies or informational gaps in the VPATs. For example, after reviewing the initial VPATs, the evaluators summarized their conclusions, noting those areas where the vendors failed to address the informational requirements of the VPATs. The agency then sent clarification requests to both vendors requesting additional details in support of their claims regarding compliance. This process was repeated numerous times throughout the agency’s evaluation. The record also shows that the agency’s evaluation conclusions changed throughout this process in response to the information received from its requests for clarification. In short, GAO finds that, contrary to Dell’s assertions, the evaluators in fact performed a detailed evaluation of the VPATS, and the record adequately memorializes that evaluation.
Dell next asserts that the agency improperly assigned HP evaluation points for its workstation and 22-inch monitor under the software applications and operating systems criteria. According to Dell, since this acquisition does not include software, giving credit for section 508 compliant software was unreasonable. Dell maintains that, in contrast, it received no similar evaluation points because its quotation accurately characterized this standard as not applicable. Similarly, Dell maintains that the agency improperly assigned HP an extra evaluation point for quoting a 22-inch monitor that had a compliant touch screen or touch-operated controls, even though the agency is not acquiring such products. According to the protester, in both situations, the competitors should have been assigned a not applicable rating for these items.
GAO finds that the protester’s assertion is based on a premise that mischaracterizes the agency’s evaluation. The record shows that the VPATs were reviewed under numerous–and sometimes differing–regulatory categories, depending on the product in question. For example, the workstation VPATs were reviewed for compliance under 36 C.F.R. sections 1194.21, 1194.23, 1194.26, 1194.31 and 1194.41. Within each regulatory category, there were a discrete number of requirements; for example, under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.21, there were 12 requirements. However, there is no indication in the record that the agency assigned evaluation points under the various categories, or that it subsequently tallied points for purposes of evaluating the compliance of a given product with the section 508 standards. Rather, the record shows that the agency’s methodology was to assign a rating of supports to a component where all of the standards were rated as either fully supported or not applicable; that is, the evaluation made no distinction between a fully supported and a not applicable rating for purposes of determining compliance. The controlling consideration was whether a component received one or more ratings of partially supported for a category; in that case, the component automatically received a rating of partially supported for the category. Thus, the record shows that the agency’s ultimate evaluation conclusion would not have changed, even if the protester were correct that the agency improperly assigned HP’s workstation and 22-inch monitor supported rather than not applicable ratings for some of the requirements. It follows that there is no basis for GAO to question the evaluation in this area.
Dell asserts that the agency disparately evaluated the quotations regarding the RFQ requirement for information, documentation, and support for their products that would accommodate disabled workers. Dell claims that HP and itself met the requirement the same way–in the form of a toll-free number, available Monday through Friday during regular business hours, that would accommodate callers using telecommunications device for the deaf/teletypewriter (TDD/TTY) terminals (which are used by hearing and speech impaired individuals). Dell also asserts that both vendors offered information, documentation and support via their websites 24 hours a day. HP’s workstation, 19-inch monitor and 22-inch monitor were rated as fully supporting the standard, while Dell’s received partially supports ratings under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.41. Dell maintains that these disparate evaluation conclusions were unreasonable given that the two vendors quoted identical approaches.
GAO finds that this argument is without merit. While Dell may have quoted the same toll-free number approach as HP, the record shows that this aspect of the quotations was not the reason for the disparate ratings in this area. The agency evaluated the vendors’ websites under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.22 to determine whether they supported the section 508 standards. The vendors’ VPATs and the agency’s evaluation conclusions show that HP’s website was rated fully supports for all 16 requirements under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.22, whereas Dell’s was rated fully supports under only six of the requirements and partially supports under five Consistent with its evaluation methodology, the agency therefore rated HP’s website as fully supports and Dell’s as partially supports.
In rating the vendors’ other offered components, the agency assigned fully supports ratings to the HP products under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.41 because HP quoted TDD/TTY terminals and a website that had been determined to fully support the section 508 standards. In contrast, when rating Dell’s other components, the agency assigned partially supports ratings to Dell’s workstation and 22-inch monitor under 36 C.F.R. sect. 1194.41 because, although Dell also quoted TDD/TTY terminal support and a website, its website had been rated only partially supports.This evaluation conclusion was unobjectionable; since the Dell website did not fully support the section 508 standards, and the remaining products were dependent on that website to provide prospective users with the information, documentation and support, the agency reasonably concluded that Dell’s components warranted a partially supports rating.
Dell asserts that the agency misevaluated its workstation when it conducted its hands-on test for purposes of determining whether the workstation was compatible with the SSA accessibility standards (the JAWS and MAGic software applications). The RFQ required vendors to supply workstations that had operating system software already installed, but the agency installed the JAWS and MAGis software applications prior to conducting the hands-on testing. The agency found that the Dell workstation did not perform as well as HP’s when these applications were run. According to Dell, its and HP’s workstations employ the same [deleted], and therefore should have performed more or less identically; it thus infers that there had to be a problem with the agency’s installation of the JAWS and MAGic software applications on its workstation, or that the agency must have configured its workstation incorrectly prior to conducting the hands-on test.
This argument is without merit. First, Dell has not asserted or demonstrated that, even though its workstation and the HP workstation have certain components in common, they are configured identically, such that identical test results necessarily would be expected. HP points out, for example, that differences in other system components, firmware, or other hardware configuration questions leave open the possibility that the two workstations would perform differently. Further, there is no other evidence supporting Dell’s inference that the performance of its workstation during the hands-on test was attributable to errors on the part of the agency in installing the JAWS and MAGic software applications, or in otherwise configuring its workstation prior to the test.
In any case, the record shows that, ultimately, the agency’s observations during the hands-on test resulted in its merely concluding that there was a difference in performance between the two workstations, not that the Dell product was technically unacceptable. In this respect, the record includes an e-mail chain that began with an email from the head of the testing group to several other people in the agency. In response to that e-mail, one of the agency’s procurement officials stated: It is unclear whether the report below proposed to fail the Dell 755, but the way I interpret the comments, it is a performance issue and not a failure. Likewise, there is no indication that the agency considered the hands-on test results for Dell in either the section 508 compliance findings, or in the source selection decision itself. In the final section 508 compliance evaluation report, there is no mention of the results of Dell’s test results, and there is only a passing reference to HP’s results. These conclusions are repeated verbatim in the source selection decision. It thus does not appear that the test results were used as a discriminator in the award decision. The protest is denied.