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SBSI, Inc., B-410923, March 20, 2015
Link: GAO Decision
Agency: Defense Intelligence Agency
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Mandatory RFP instructions; Reasonableness of Agency Decision to reject proposal.
General Counsel, P.C. Highlight: This is a recent case that highlights once again the importance of strict adherence to the proposal instructions in the RFP/solicitation, including all amendments, and meeting every requirement, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. Failure to do so can have serious ramifications, including elimination of a proposal from consideration.
Strategic Business Solutions, Inc. (“SBSI”) protested the rejection of its proposal submitted under a RFP issued by the Defense Intelligence Agency for support services to help establish internal controls; demonstrate and sustain audit readiness; and support a wide range of activities, such as financial, resource, and project management.
The RFP was set aside for small businesses concerns. It provided extensive instructions for preparing proposals which were contained in three volumes. The RFP specifically required offerors to submit “7 ORIGINALS – WRITTEN VERSION-REDACTED.” An amendment to the RFP stated that the redactions should include all information that identifies the names of the offeror, any subcontractors, and their respective personnel.
The Agency received several proposals, including one from SBSI. Notwithstanding the instructions, the proposal from SBSI failed to redact information concerning its identity and the identities of its personnel, its subcontractors and their personnel. In all, there were over 100 instances where SBSI failed to redact information. SBSI’s proposal acknowledged that it did not take any exceptions to the RFP and also acknowledged receipt of all amendments to the RFP. Because the identifying information was not redacted, the Agency excluded SBSI’s proposal from consideration. SBSI received a written debriefing and then filed this protest.
SBSI argued that its proposal was improperly excluded from consideration. SBSI’s position was that the inclusion of the identifying information rendered the proposal “nonresponsive,” but that it was only a minor formality which the Agency should have waived. SBSI went further to contend that the Agency’s conclusion that SBSI’s proposal was unacceptable was based on an undisclosed evaluation criterion.
The Agency argues that redacting the proposal was necessary to ensure that the decision process was unbiased, and SBSI’s failure to redact the proposal was a material failure to comply with the clear requirements of the RFP.
In cases like this, GAO examines the record to determine whether the Agency’s judgment was reasonable and consistent with the RFP evaluation criteria. GAO disagreed with SBSI’s contention that the RFP needed to state the consequences for failure to redact the identifying information. Further, GAO disagreed with SBSI’s contention that its failure was an issue of “responsiveness” and only a minor formality.
Rather, GAO concluded that the RFP contained a mandatory requirement that the offeror submit seven copies of its proposal with all identifying information redacted. Therefore, the Agency acted lawfully in rejecting a proposal in which SBSI failed to submit information in the manner required by the RFP. GAO determined that the Agency’s finding that SBSI’s proposal was unacceptable was reasonable. SBSI’s protest was denied on that basis.
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