Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
Disposition: Protest sustained.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
GAO sustained the protest of IBM Corporation, U.S. Federal, based on the award of a contract to HP Enterprise Services, LLC under a request for proposals (RFP), issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a real time location system (RTLS).
The RFP contemplated the award of a fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contract for a five-year ordering period with a minimum guaranteed value of $20,000 and a maximum value of $543 million. The successful contractor will be responsible for furnishing all hardware, software, documentation and incidental services necessary to provide the VA with a complete solution to the agency’s requirement for an RTLS. Broadly speaking, an RTLS is an integrated system of hardware and software products for tracking assets, personnel and patients throughout VA facilities in real time. The four non-price factors were: technical, past performance, veterans’ involvement, and small business participation commitment. The technical factor was further divided among three subfactors, which were listed in descending order of importance; each subfactor was described as slightly more important than the one beneath it. The subfactors were: (1) task order execution (which included two equally-weighted task orders, the veterans integrated service network (VISN) 23 task order, and the enterprise system engineering (ESE) task order); (2) project execution; and, (3) sample task (which included two sample tasks listed in descending order of importance, medical center A and national data repository).
IBM’s arguments focued on the two areas where the agency perceived greater value in HP’s proposal–HP’s use of single active tag technology and its use of an open system architecture that is infrastructure and tag agnostic. In these two areas, IBM maintained that the agency misevaluated the proposals because it concluded that only HP offered these two features when, in fact, the IBM proposal offered these two features as well.
The record showed that one of two principal discriminators between the HP and IBM proposals was HP’s use of single active tag technology. The agency’s evaluators assigned the HP proposal a significant strength for offering a single active tag technology solution, but did not identify this as a strength in the IBM proposal. The source selection authority (SSA) relied on this significant strength as a major discriminator between the two proposals. GAO found that the record supported IBM’s position that IBM offered a single active tag solution, and that its active tags will function in both WiFi and Non-WiFi (alternate infrastructure) environments. IBM’s proposal specifically represents that all of its tags (as well as other CCX compatible tags) will function in the environment. Accordingly, based on this record, GAO agreed with IBM that its proposal—like HP’s—includes a single active tag technology solution.
The record showed that the other principal discriminator used by the agency to justify award of the contract to HP was the agency’s perception that HP proposed a solution that involved “open architecture” that was “infrastructure agnostic” and “tag agnostic.” In contrast, the agency found that IBM offered a “proprietary” active tag and software solution. IBM asserts generally that the agency also erred in assigning the HP proposal a significant strength for offering what the agency termed an open architecture that was infrastructure and tag agnostic. GAO stated that record supported IBM’s assertion that it offered an open architecture platform that met the RFP’s requirement for integration with existing VA and third-party applications and, therefore, was “infrastructure agnostic” to use the agency evaluators’ phrase. Moreover, GAO found that the record also showed that although both firms proposed different software solutions, their respective proposed system architectures appeared to be comparatively similar. GAO specifically found that: (1) both firms proposed to comply with VA’s development standards and protocols; (2) both firms proposed to use commercial off-the-shelf software platforms with an “integrator” software component to achieve interoperability; and (3) both firms used a standards-based common data model, along with proposing the use of existing VA data translation assets, to achieve intercommunication of the RTLS system with VA’s legacy and third-party applications.