Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Navy
Disposition: Protest denied.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
GAO denied the protest of Halfaker and Associates, LLC, regarding the issuance of a task order to Native Hawaiian Veterans, LLC (NHV), by the Department of the Navy, Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center Norfolk, under a task order request for proposals (TORP) for watchstander support services at various Navy Regional Operation Centers (ROC) around the world.
The agency issued the solicitation via the Navy’s Seaport-e multiple award contracts platform. The solicitation sought quotations from Seaport-e contractors to provide watchstander support services on a 24-hour, 365 day per year basis at 11 Navy ROCs. The solicitation anticipated the issuance of a single fixed-price task order with cost reimbursable elements, with a one-year base period of performance and two one-year option periods. Under the terms of the solicitation, the task order was to be issued to the firm submitting the quotation that represented the best value to the government. For the purpose of determining best value, the solicitation provided that the agency would evaluate two non-price factors–performance approach and past performance–and price. Regarding performance approach, the solicitation required that a performance approach be provided that would successfully accomplish the requirements of the solicitation, describing any risks associated with the solicitation and any risks associated with implementation of the quoter’s approach to performance approach; describing techniques and actions to mitigate such risks; and explaining whether the techniques and actions identified for risk mitigation have been successfully used. Firms were also specifically instructed to address their management approach, staffing approach, phase-in approach, surge operations support plan, and approach to potential integration with other regional operation center contractors. Under the past performance factor, firms were required to demonstrate relevant past performance by identifying their two most relevant contracts during the past five years. The solicitation defined relevant past performance as “performance under contracts or efforts within the past five years that is of similar scope, magnitude, and complexity to that which is described in the solicitation.”
Halfaker challenged the Navy’s evaluation of NHV’s performance approach, arguing that the Navy failed to consider the risk that NHV will be unable to hire Halfaker’s incumbent workforce at its quoted price, as well as phase-in risks that will prevent NHV from being able to begin performance on “day one.” Accordingly, Halfaker asserted that NHV should not have received a low risk assessment in the staffing approach and phase-in approach areas, and should not have been rated “good” for the performance approach factor overall. GAO stated that the record did not reflect that capturing the incumbent workforce was the sole foundation of NHV’s approach. Rather, the record showed that the agency specifically considered NHV’s recruitment strategy noting that it was based on a multi-tiered approach in which capturing the incumbent workforce was only the first of three prongs–NHV indicated that it was also prepared to utilize NHV personnel and current recruitment efforts to staff the contract. Moreover, the record showed that NHV explained that it employed proven retention techniques involving market-competitive compensation and fringe benefits, employee development opportunities, and job growth. Because NHV’s staffing plan did not solely rely on capturing the incumbent workforce, Halfaker’s argument that NHV’s pricing will be insufficient to successfully achieve capture of the incumbent workforce fails to demonstrate that the agency’s risk assessment, which was based on the totality of NHV’s staffing approach, was unreasonable. The solicitation in this case did not require NHV to discuss, or the Navy to evaluate, any specified risks of contract performance.
Additionally, in its discussion of phase-in approach, NHV explained its multi-phase strategy consisting of a planning phase, site survey phase, site preparation phase, and site transition phase. The Navy found that NHV provided necessarily details to include “development of plans, proposals, notification, surveys, gathering credentials, conducting briefs, orientations, and more.” Additionally, NHV’s phase-in approach explained its “proven ability to attract and employ incumbent staff . . . often retaining more than 90%,” and stated that NHV previously “[t]ransitioned 55 incumbent employees in only four days at naval base Guam.” Although Halfaker may have ultimately disagreed with the agency’s assessment of the risks associated with NHV’s phase-in plan, GAO had no basis to find the Navy’s evaluation unreasonable or inconsistent with the terms of the solicitation.
Halfaker next contended that the Navy’s evaluation of NHV’s past performance was undocumented, unreasonable, and unsupported by the record. Halfaker argued that the evaluation is particularly troubling because the contracting officer overrode the TEB’s conclusion that NHV’s past performance warranted an unknown confidence rating and independently assigned a satisfactory confidence rating. However, GAO found that the record demonstrated that the contracting officer’s independent evaluation of the relevance of NHV’s past performance references were reasonable and documented in the SSD. The contracting officer specifically agreed with the TEB’s finding that NHV’s referenced contract was very similar in scope to the requirement. She noted that the reference was for performance of virtually identical services. She, however, disagreed with the TEB’s assessment of the complexity of the reference as only “somewhat similar” where the TEB’s evaluation was based on the erroneous finding that the reference did not reflect OCONUS contract performance, and the reference in fact included performance on Hawaii and Guam. Correcting for this error, the contracting officer found the reference to be “similar” rather than merely “somewhat similar” in terms of complexity. GAO therefore concluded that the TEB chairperson’s declaration supported the contemporaneous record with previously unrecorded details. Specifically, the declaration merely confirmed the SSD’s statement NHV performed its reference “exceptionally well” and explains the absence of a past performance quality evaluation in the TEB’s analysis of NHV’s quotation. Where the quality of NHV’s past performance was discussed in the SSD, and was supported by the TEB chairperson’s explanation, GAO concluded that the documentation was sufficient to support the Navy’s evaluation.
Finally, Halfaker asserted that the Navy’s best value decision was improper. Halfaker contended that the Navy failed to conduct a comparative analysis of the proposals, and that the selection of NHV’s lower-rated, lower-price quotation was not consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation scheme providing that the non-price factors were more important than price. The record did not support Halfaker’s contention that the contracting officer’s comparison of the quotations was inadequate, or that the award decision was inconsistent with the solicitation’s award scheme, GAO stated. The SSD demonstrated that the contracting officer thoroughly reviewed the TEB report and independently reviewed the quotations before reaching her award decision. In the SSD the contracting officer also reviewed the evaluation criteria that considered the non-price quote more important than the price quote and recognized Halfaker’s highest-possible technical ratings. Ultimately, however, the contracting officer decided that the price difference between the two firms was too significant to be overcome by the technical advantages associated with award to Halfaker. Based on the record, GAO concluded that the contracting officer’s best value decision was well documented and that Halfaker did not show that the contracting officer’s judgment in this regard was unreasonable.