Link: GAO Decision
Protestor: Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation
Agency: Department of the Air Force
Disposition: Protests Denied.
Protest alleging that contracting agency improperly and disparately evaluated proposals is denied where the record reflects that the evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria, and that differences in the evaluation were not the result of unequal treatment.
General Counsel PC Highlight:
Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, Electronic Systems protested the award to Raytheon Company of a contract for a Dismount Detection Radar (DDR) system for the MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft. Given the urgency of the requirement, the Air Force structured it as a Quick Reaction Capability program, which significantly accelerates the acquisition cycle over conventional radar programs. After issuing a sources sought synopsis, the agency determined that only Northrop Grumman and Raytheon had the potential to deliver, and proceeded with a limited competition in which both firms were awarded initial contracts to mature their designs. The SSA determined that Raytheon offered the best value to the government, after Raytheon’s cost was adjusted upward to account for four additional flight tests the technical evaluation team concluded would be necessary.
Although Northrop Grumman objected to numerous aspects of the agency’s evaluation of proposals, the GAO concluded that none of its arguments provided a basis to sustain the protest. The GAO found no reason to question the agency’s assignment of moderate risk to Northrop Grumman under the schedule factor in part due to Northrop Grumman’s proposed antenna design, noting that it proposed using an antenna still being developed and tested under another contract. The GAO further disagreed that the proposals were evaluated disparately, pointing out that the agency found Raytheon’s proposed 100% reuse of all major hardware components a “manageable” risk under the schedule factor. The GAO found that the record showed that the differences in risk ratings were not the result of unequal treatment, but rather stemmed from differences between the offerors’ proposals. It then disagreed with Northrop Grumman’s argument that more than four additional flight tests should have been factored into Raytheon’s proposed schedule, pointing out that Raytheon intended to leverage flight testing from other ongoing programs. The GAO found that the agency made a reasonable evaluation as to whether Raytheon’s proposed schedule could absorb the additional flights it deemed necessary.
The GAO then found without merit Northrop Grumman’s objections to evaluations under the technical performance factor. It found Northrop Grumman had selectively read the record in asserting that conclusions indicating that its design lacked performance margin were incorrect. It also disagreed that the agency should have considered Northrop Grumman’s proposal to be superior in considering its reuse of existing hardware and software because Northrop Grumman had received more strengths than Raytheon. The GAO pointed out that a single strength can be of more value than multiple, lesser strengths. The GAO then disagreed that the agency introduced an unstated evaluation criteria when the agency noted that Northrop Grumman’s previous information assurance accreditations did not necessarily meet the same standards as the agency’s C2 Platform Information Technology (PIT) Designing Accrediting Authority. The GAO determined that the agency’s consideration of the C2 PIT information assurance requirement was encompassed by the stated evaluation criteria.
Offerors bear the burden of submitting adequately written proposals, and failure to provide sufficiently detailed information could result in the assignment of a weakness. Furthermore, although an RFP may allow offerors the flexibility to propose different approaches to satisfy performance, offerors must remember to thoroughly explain how their approach will fulfill the needs of the government. Although the agency may ask an offeror for clarification or further explanation during discussions, the agency has no obligation to ask specific questions about an offeror’s proposal if the agency only has general concerns regarding the adequacy of certain aspects.