Link: GAO Decision
Protestor: Orion Technology, Inc.; Chenega Integrated Mission Support, LLC
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protests Sustained.
Protest is sustained where record shows that agency mechanically and unequally applied undisclosed staffing estimates in evaluating the offerors’ proposed staffing plans to determine whether proposals were acceptable or unacceptable.
General Counsel PC Highlight:
Orion Technology, Inc. and Chenega Integration Mission Support, LLC protested the award to Advanced Technology Logistics, Inc. of a contract for installation support services at the U.S. Army Garrison – Redstone, Alabama. Award was to be made on a lowest-priced, technically-acceptable basis, considering technical/management and past performance evaluation factors. The agency would rate the various subfactors under these evaluation factors as either acceptable or unacceptable, evaluating the proposals for “adequacy of response” and “feasibility of approach.” Although both protestors offered lower prices than the awardee, the agency determined that their FPRs were technically unacceptable for failing to offer adequate staffing.
The GAO sustained the protests, pointing out that it is inappropriate to determine the acceptability of proposals by the mechanical application of undisclosed government estimates, since doing so fails to assess whether a firm’s proposed workforce is particularly skilled and efficient, or whether, because of a unique approach, the firm could satisfactorily perform the work with different staffing than estimated by the agency. The GAO noted that every deficiency or weakness identified in the protestors’ proposals related to areas in which the protestors’ proposed staffing was less than the level identified by the agency as necessary to perform the requirement in its undisclosed government estimate. The GAO found no evidence in the contemporaneous record that the agency considered whether any approach to staffing other than that reflected in its undisclosed government estimate might be adequate. The GAO also found that the agency subjected the protestors’ proposed staffing to stricter scrutiny as compared to the awardee, finding deficiencies in the protestors’ proposals where even minor deviations from the undisclosed staffing estimates were found, but found weaknesses when similar issues were identified in the awardee’s proposal.
An agency is permitted to rely on its own estimates of the staffing necessary for satisfactory performance, but cannot rely absolutely on those estimates without consideration of the unique staffing solutions proposed by offerors. If the agency determines that its estimate is its minimum requirement, it must disclose this to offerors during discussions rather than leave them guessing as to minimum staffing requirements. A disappointed offeror should always request a debriefing so as to better understand the evaluation of its proposal and to gain insight that may improve its proposals in the future. If weaknesses or deficiencies were assessed based on what the agency perceived to be insufficient staffing, the offeror should consider whether they adequately explained an approach that satisfies the solicitation requirements with lower staffing levels. If the offeror believes the agency mechanically applied its minimum staffing requirements without consideration of the offer’s unique approach, there may be sustainable grounds to protest.