Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest sustained.
Keywords: Technical Weaknesses; Technical Evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: In a challenge to the Agency’s evaluation, the GAO will not substitute its own judgment for that of the agency, but will question the agency’s conclusions where they are inconsistent with the solicitation criteria, undocumented, or not reasonably based.
DRS ICAS, LLC protests the issuance of a delivery order under a request for proposals (RFP), issued by the Department of the Army (Army), for a man-portable aircraft survivability trainer (MAST) system.
The solicitation sought proposals to develop and provide MAST units, which are intended to allow users to simulate threats posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The RFP was restricted to vendors under a multiple-award indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (ID/IQ), known as the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Omnibus Contract II. The solicitation provided for the issuance of a delivery order with a one-year base period and four one-year options. The RFP stated that the delivery order would be based on fixed-unit prices for the MAST units and associated equipment, along with certain time-and-materials contract line items (CLINs), and that the agency could order up to 60 units per year.
The solicitation advised offerors that proposals would be evaluated based on five factors, including technical approach, which had three subfactors, technology insertion and open architecture, target sensitivity, and MILES integration. DRS protested the Army’s award of the contract twice and twice the Army took corrective action in response to the protests.
DRS ultimately challenges the Army’s evaluation of its technical proposal, and the agency’s evaluation of offerors’ prices.
GAO states that the evaluation of an offeror’s proposal is a matter within the agency’s discretion. A protester’s mere disagreement with the agency’s judgment in its determination of the relative merit of competing proposals does not establish that the evaluation was unreasonable. In reviewing a protest against an agency’s evaluation of proposals, GAO will not reevaluate proposals but instead will examine the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement statutes and regulations. While GAO will not substitute its judgment for that of the agency, it will question the agency’s conclusions where they are inconsistent with the solicitation criteria, undocumented, or not reasonably based.
DRS argues that the agency unreasonably assessed a weakness in its proposal under the technology insertion and open architecture subfactor, based on the DRS’s proposed use of USB ports. The Army contends that the plain language of the solicitation prohibited the use of any USB ports. GAO, however, thinks that the plain language of the solicitation provision does not support the agency’s interpretation that all USB ports are prohibited. Based on the plain language of the solicitation, GAO thinks that the protester’s interpretation of the RFP as permitting keyed USB ports is reasonable, and that the agency’s interpretation of the RFP as barring use of all USB ports is unreasonable. For that reason, the GAO sustains this protest ground.
Next, DRS argues that the agency unreasonably assessed a weakness in its proposal under the target sensitivity subfactor, based on DRS’s failure to address the use of focal plane array target scanning technology in its proposed simulation of SA-16 and SA-18 threats. The Army stated that “[t]he offeror provides no detail on how to simulate the target sensitivity of the SA-16 and SA-18 that use focal plane arrays which is outside of the scope of the offeror’s proposed solution.” During the hearing, the SSEB Chair conceded that this evaluation was in error, because he was misinformed by a technical evaluator as to the technology used by SA-16 and SA-18 missiles. To the extent that the agency’s assessment of weakness here relied upon its conclusion that DRS’s proposal failed to address focal plane technology, GAO finds that the evaluation was unreasonable.
DRS argues that the agency unreasonably assessed a weakness in its proposal under the target sensitivity subfactor, based on its failure to discuss a certain scan technology, and the agency’s belief that the protester would address this requirement only through a future upgrade.
The RFP required offerors to address target sensitivity requirements, and stated that the agency would evaluate “the Offeror’s approach to satisfying the ability to change the target tracking sensitivity and its correlation to threat group parameters . . . within the specifications document.” Although the certain scan technology is not discussed in the RFP, both the performance specifications and the RFP state that SA-7, SA-14, SA-16, and SA-18 missiles are “popular” threats.
Based on GAO’s review of the plain language of DRS’s proposal, it does not think that the Army’s interpretation is reasonable. To the extent that the agency believed that DRS’s proposal stated that its technology would simulate only an SA?7 missile, GAO does not think that the record supports this conclusion.
Further, GAO found that the SSEB Chair’s testimony during a hearing indicated that the agency’s concerns with DRS’s proposal were beyond those contemplated by the RFP’s evaluation factors. Agencies are required to evaluate proposals based solely on the factors identified in the solicitation, and must adequately document the bases for their evaluation conclusions. While agencies properly may apply evaluation considerations that are not expressly outlined in the RFP where those considerations are reasonably and logically encompassed within the stated evaluation criteria, there must be a clear nexus between the stated criteria and the unstated consideration.
The protest is sustained.