Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: General Services Administration
Disposition: Protest denied.
- Protest asserting that General Services Administration (GSA) contracting officials improperly rescored quotations after technical evaluation was performed by requiring activity (Indian Health Service) evaluators is denied where record shows that GSA officials were adjusting numeric scores to more accurately reflect evaluation criteria and source selection plan evaluation standards, and made adjustments only after reviewing quotations and initial evaluation results.
- Protest that agency misevaluated quotations is denied where record shows that evaluation was reasonable and consistent with terms of solicitation and standards generally applicable to negotiated procurements.
- Agency’s request for vendor price reductions in Federal Supply Schedule acquisition conducted under Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) part 8.4 did not constitute discussions, and therefore did not trigger agency obligation to engage in meaningful discussions, as would be required in a negotiated acquisition conducted pursuant to FAR part 15; FAR part 8.4 expressly requires agencies to seek price reductions in specified circumstances.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
The protester first asserts that it was improper for GSA to rescore the quotations after receiving the evaluation materials prepared by IHS’s technical evaluators. According to the protester, this rescoring resulted in the technical superiority of CNI’s quotation being exaggerated, and also ultimately led to the SSA’s not considering OPTIMUS’s quotation in the price/technical tradeoff decision, notwithstanding OPTIMUS’s substantial price advantage over CNI. GAO states that it will not reevaluate quotations in reviewing a protest challenging an agency’s technical evaluation; rather, GAO will examine the record to determine whether the agency’s evaluation conclusions were reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation and applicable procurement laws and regulations. In the final analysis, ratings, be they numerical, color, or adjectival, are merely guides for intelligent decision making in the procurement process. The germane consideration is whether the record shows that the agency fully considered the actual qualitative differences in the technical quotations or quotations.
Both GSA officials, after a detailed review of the evaluation materials and the quotations themselves, assigned point scores that they determined more accurately portrayed the relative merits of the quotations, and were consistent with the terms of the solicitation’s evaluation scheme. These actions were in no way inconsistent with the RFQ, and the protester has not shown that the revised scores inaccurately reflected the relative merits of the quotations. GAO has no basis to object to the rescoring.
Optimus challenges the agency’s evaluation conclusions relating to its quotation under the technical/management approach factor. The agency assigned its quotation a rating of falls somewhat short of the standard (a numeric score of 1) under the technical/management factor based on several evaluated deficiencies. OPTIMUS essentially maintains that none of the deficiencies, in fact, exist. However, GAO’s review of the OPTIMUS quotation confirms that the quotation relies on an outline of industry best practices and broad statements of generic methodologies that would be brought to bear to meet the solicitation’s requirements, but does not address the specifics of the statement of work. During the protest, OPTIMUS did not demonstrate that these criticisms were incorrect, but instead simply expressed disagreement with the agency’s evaluation conclusions; such disagreement, without more, does not demonstrate that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable.
Another criticism identified by the SSA in his source selection decision was that OPTIMUS did not propose a tier 1, 2 and 3 service desk operation in its quotation, as required by the RFQ. OPTIMUS disagrees with this conclusion, and identifies several pages from its quotation that allegedly show its quotation met the requirement. GAO’s review of the referenced pages, however, shows that the SSA’s observation was reasonable. One of OPTIMUS’s referenced pages is in the past performance section of its quotation and does not purport to address how OPTIMUS will meet the current requirement. The second reference describes another past performance reference, in part, and sets forth the introductory portion of its technical /management approach; there is no mention of the requirement for tier 1, 2, and 3 service desk operations in this portion of its quotation. Finally, OPTIMUS references quotation pages that discuss the service desk operation, but these pages only describe a generic sequence of tasks, with no mention of the tier 1, 2 and 3 service desk operation required by the RFQ. GAO concludes that the deficiencies identified by the agency in OPTIMUS’s technical/management approach were reasonable, and properly formed the basis for downgrading the firm’s quotation.
The protester maintains that the agency failed to provide it with meaningful discussions. According to the protester, the agency’s request for price reductions after the submission of initial quotations constituted the opening of discussions, which obligated the agency to bring to OPTIMUS’s attention the weaknesses the agency identified in the technical portion of its quotation. GAO states that this requirement is being met through the FSS, and was conducted pursuant to FAR part 8.4. There is no requirement in FAR part 8.4 that an agency soliciting vendor responses prior to issuing a task order under an FSS contract conduct discussions with vendors regarding the contents of those responses, even where the solicitation does not specifically advise firms of the agency’s intent to issue a task order without discussions. Under FAR sect. 8.405-2(c)(3)(ii), where, as here, an agency is placing an order under the FSS that exceeds the maximum order threshold, it is required to seek price reductions below the prices included in the vendors’ FSS price lists. The agency’s request for price reductions was pursuant to this requirement, and therefore did not constitute the opening of discussions, such that the agency was obligated to engage in meaningful discussions. The protest is denied.