Washington Business Journal by Lee Dougherty, Attorney, General Counsel PC
Date: Friday, October 19, 2012, 1:15pm EDT
A contractor might not like the way an agency ranked its proposal — or the proposal of a competitor —on a particular ratings scale, but a protest based primarily on that rating is not likely to prevail, says FedBiz Daily contributor Lee Dougherty.
Protesting contractors: General Dynamics Information Technology Inc., Fairfax
Contracting agency: Department of the Army
Issue: The extent to which evaluation ratings should be considered in determining the winning proposal
Decision: Denied by the Government Accountability Office, Oct. 12, 2012.
Postmortem: There is something about seeing yourself rated that is difficult to take. Whether it is the three-legged race at the annual block party or an evaluation at work, we just don’t like to be judged. Every contractor that submits a proposal faces the moment of reckoning when it gets debriefed and sees how how its proposal was judged by the government.
For most contractors, this is a moment where they can learn from their mistakes so that their next proposal is more competitive. For others, seeing their proposal rated poorly is more than they can take, whether the government uses uses colors or numbers to rank offers, or in the case of General Dynamics’ debriefing, an adjectival rating.They file protests, with little hope of success.
General Dynamics, the incumbent, protested the award of a fixed-price task order to McLean-based Science Applications International Corp., for information technology support services for the G-2 Army Military Intelligence Enterprise requirements. The solicitation was issued this past March, and SAIC and General Dynamics submitted initial proposals.
Both offers had significant weaknesses, and the Army issued evaluation notices to each company concerning the shortcomings. Both contractors submitted revised proposals. The Source Selection Evaluation Board evaluated the final proposals and gave adjectival ratings for each factor and subfactor.
General Dynamics was rated “Good” in every factor and subfactor except one, where it was rated “Outstanding.” SAIC was rated “Outstanding” in three sub-factors, but only “Acceptable” in the Management Approach factor.
After adopting the evaluation board’s rating,s the source selection authority conducted an analysis and determined that the differences in the Management Approach were “minimal” and SAIC’s proposal was “far superior” to the one from General Dynamics.
General Dynamics’ protest was based primarily on the company’s disagreement with the adjectival ratings given to the two offers. The GAO determined that the evaluation of the two offers was consistent with the criteria stated in the solicitation and was reasonable.
It reminded General Dymanics that proposals “with the same adjectival ratings are not necessarily of equal quality, and an agency may properly consider specific advantages that make one proposal of higher quality than another.”
In this case, according to the GAO, the source selection authority “looked behind the adjectival ratings to identify any qualitative differences that existed between the proposals.” General Dynamics’ price was 10.03 percent higher than SAIC’s price, which had great impact on the price/technical trade-off.
It is difficult to see your proposal rated poorly, but contractors must remember the findings of the GAO in this case: “Ratings, whether numerical, color, or adjectival, are merely guides to assist agencies in evaluating proposals.”
A protest based primarily on disagreement with an assigned rating will not be successful. To prevail, the protestor must show that the source selection authority engaged in a “purely mathematical or mechanical” price/technical trade-off. Sometimes it is better to accept criticism and learn from your mistakes than to fight a losing battle over a bruised ego.