Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Technical Evaluation; Discussions
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: An agency is not obligated to reopen negotiations to give an offeror the opportunity to remedy a defect that first appears in a revised proposal.
A solicitation issued by the Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), for information technology support services, contemplated issuance of a time-and-materials task order for a two-year base period, with two-year and one-year options. Performance requirements, including human resources, security, and deliverables, were identified in a detailed statement of work (SOW). Proposals were to be evaluated on a “best value” basis under three factors: technical; past performance; and price.
Three vendors, including Sabre Systems, Inc. (Sabre), submitted proposals, which were evaluated by a technical evaluation panel (TEP). The TEP rated Sabre’s proposal very good overall under the technical factor and low risk under the past performance factor. However, the contracting officer awarded the contract to another company at a higher price based on a price/technical tradeoff. Sabre filed a protest and in response, DEA notified GAO that it would take corrective action. Sabre’s protest was dismissed as academic.
In the re-evaluation, the TEP rated Sabre’s proposal good overall, with low past performance risk, but rated the other company’s proposal very good overall, with low past performance risk. Sabre filed another protest asserting that the re-evaluation was inadequate and resulted in the identification of unreasonable new weaknesses, specifically, a weakness regarding its proposing a deputy project manager (DPM) as part of its communication initiative.
GAO finds the evaluation unobjectionable where the solicitation required vendors to demonstrate their understanding and management of important events or tasks and the TEP found that Sabre’s communication initiatives failed to clearly define the different roles and responsibilities needed to properly implement the new responsibilities. The TEP acknowledged that Sabre had provided additional details, but found that Sabre failed to clearly identify or define the DPB’s role.
Sabre also asserts that the agency failed to provide it with meaningful discussions regarding previously unidentified weaknesses under the demonstrated understanding and management/technical approach subfactors. GAO states that when an agency engages in discussions with an offeror, the discussions must be meaningful, that is, they must lead the offeror into the areas of its proposal that require correction of amplification. However, an agency is not required to reopen negotiations to give an offeror the opportunity to remedy a defect that first appears in a revised proposal.
The discussions were unobjectionable where the agency’s initial discussions noted that Sabre’s proposal did not provide sufficient detail to depict all SOW requirements, which was sufficient to lead Sabre to provide a response that included a more detailed proposal. GAO also finds that the fact that Sabre’s initial proposal contained little information on the DPM is irrelevant where Sabre’s failure to provide complete information led to a new evaluated weakness, which, because it was introduced for the first time in its revised proposal, did not obligate the agency to reopen discussions. The protest is denied.