Link: GAO Decision
Protestor: ERC Inc.
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Disposition: Protest Denied.
Protest that source selection authority’s (SSA) selection decision was improper is denied where the record shows the SSA conducted an extensive examination of the qualitative merits of proposals in finding them essentially equal under two evaluation factors, and reasonably relied on a key discriminator under the third evaluation factor to make the selection decision.
General Counsel PC Highlight:
ERC Inc. protested the award to Barrios Technology, Ltd. of a contract for mission and program integration (MAPI) services for the International Space Station. The RFP, issued as a small business set-aside, provided for award on a best value basis, considering mission suitability, past performance, and cost/price. The mission suitability factor contained three subfactors, with technical approach and management approach being more heavily weighted than safety and health approach. In determining relevance of past performance, the agency would consider whether present or past efforts involved the same magnitude of effort and complexities involved here.
During the initial SEB presentation, ERC’s mission capability proposal had a modest point advantage overall, stemming from its better management approach. The SEB had found ERC and Barrios’ technical approaches to be essentially equal, but the SSA asked the SEB to provide more detailed qualitative information to help the SSA differentiate between the proposals. The SSA also asked for information regarding how constraints associated with ISS logistics might affect the weighing of relevance under the past performance factor. The additional information provided by the SEB led the SSA to conclude that Barrios offered more experience in the challenging environment of human spaceflight.
The GAO first considered ERC’s challenges to the SSA’s findings that the proposals were essentially equal under the mission capability factor and cost factors. It found wholly unsupported ERC’s allegation that the SSA acted in bad faith by exercising his judgment in disagreeing that certain strengths identified by the SEB were worth the weight assigned by the SEB. Although ERC had received higher adjectival ratings under the safety and health subfactor, the GAO noted that these ratings are merely guides for the SSA. The GAO also disagreed that the SSA had “downplayed” any price differential between ERC and Barrios, but rather considered it in the context of a procurement where the non-cost/price factors were significantly more important than cost/price.
The GAO found without merit ERC’s objections to the use of ISS logistics as a discriminator during the tradeoff decision. It found reasonable the agency’s characterization of various SOW provisions as involving ISS logistics, and therefore the agency’s consideration of ISS logistics was reasonably encompassed in the past performance evaluation factor. The GAO disagreed that, in light of a significant strength assigned to ERC under the management approach subfactor, the agency should not have found a risk in the area of ISS logistics.
In conducting a tradeoff decision, the agency has broad discretion to determine the manner and extent to which they make use of the individual evaluation ratings. Numerical, color, and adjectival ratings serve as guides to assist the agency in making its selection; the SSA will still consider the qualitative information underlying those ratings in making its decision. While a disappointed offeror may disagree with the evaluation ratings it received, it must demonstrate that its evaluation was not consistent with the terms of the solicitation for the GAO to sustain its protest.