Link: GAO Decision
Protestor: KinetX Aerospace, Inc.
Agency: Department of the Navy
Disposition: Protest Denied.
Protest challenging an agency’s evaluation of technical and cost proposals and selection decision is denied where the record shows that the agency’s evaluation and selection decision were reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation.
General Counsel PC Highlight:
KinetX Aerospace, Inc. protested the issuance to Vector Planning & Services, Inc. (VPSI) of task order for systems engineering support services. The RFP, issued to small business holders of SeaPort-e MACs, provided for award on a best value basis considering cost and the following non-cost factors in descending order of importance: organizational experience, management approach, personnel qualifications, and past performance. The SSA selected VPSI’s higher-priced proposal for award, finding that the additional benefits offered by VPSI outweighed the approximately $9.7 million difference in the offerors’ evaluated probably costs. In particular, the SSA noted the difference in the two firms’ ratings under the most important organizational experience factor.
KinetX argued that each of the minor strengths assigned to its proposal should have been major strengths, and that the outstanding ratings VPSI received under the organizational experience and personnel qualifications reflect disparate treatment. The GAO found, however, that KinetX merely disagreed with the agency’s assessment of the overall merit of its proposal, and that it failed to identify any information in its proposal that the agency failed to consider or factual errors made by the agency in considering its proposal. The GAO pointed out that the record showed that the TEB recognized KinetX’s relevant organizational experience, assessing a major and eleven minor strengths, as well as one minor weakness. The GAO then disagreed that VPSI’s outstanding rating under the organizational experience factor reflected disparate treatment, finding instead that it reflected the TEB’s judgment as to the relative merits of the firms’ experience.
The GAO also found that the record did not support KinetX’s contention that the agency unreasonably rated its or VPSI’s proposals under the personnel qualifications factor. It disagreed with Kinetx’s assertion that the RFP provided for equally-weighted subfactors under this factor; rather, these “subfactors” were various requirements that key personnel were to meet or exceed. The TEB had reasonably found that VPSI proposed key personnel had a greater degree of extensive and specific experience than KinetX.
KinetX challenged several aspects of the agency’s evaluation of VPSI’s technical proposal, complaining that the agency assigned a number of major and minor strengths in VPSI’s proposal for the firm’s ability to transition to performance and maintain continuity of the program. The GAO disagreed that the RFP did not allow for considering an offeror’s ability to begin work under the task order, even if the RFP did not require submission of transition plans, because offerors were to show how proposed staffing would ensure the most effective and economical performance, including an approach for selecting, retaining, supporting and replacing personnel so as to minimize learning curve and ramp-up time.
The GAO rejected KinetX’s challenges to the agency’s cost evaluation, finding the agency’s adjustment of KinetX’s labor rates for future hires in certain labor categories to be reasonable. Based on reasonable market research, the agency had determined that KinetX’s proposed rates were not realistic, based on the small community of engineering expertise available. The GAO also found no merit to KinetX’s arguments regarding the agency’s alleged reduction in VPSI’s actual labor rates for nine employees during its cost realism assessment. The GAO noted that the summary table to which KinetX was referring to was in error, and that the detailed supporting documentation for the CEB’s cost realism evaluation showed that the agency did not reduce VPSI’s actual labor rates.
Disappointed offerors should always request a debriefing so as to better understand the process and reasoning behind the agency’s source selection decision. An offeror should compare each of the major and minor strengths and weaknesses to the evaluation criteria as provided in the RFP to ensure that the evaluation was conducted in concordance with the terms of the RFP. Although a disappointed offeror may believe that its proposal warranted higher evaluation ratings, the GAO is unlikely to sustain a protest objecting to lower evaluation ratings so long as they are reasonably in line with the evaluation criteria in the RFP