Link: GAO Decision
Agency: Department of Commerce
Disposition: Protest Denied.
- Protest of an agency’s organizational conflict of interest (OCI) determination is denied where agency reasonably investigated protester’s and awardee’s possible OCI and the protester does not show that the agency’s judgment is unreasonable.
- Protest of an agency’s technical evaluation is denied where agency reasonably evaluated proposals consistent with the stated evaluation criteria and documented qualitative differences between the protester’s and awardee’s proposals.
General Counsel PC Highlight:
Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) protested the award to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) of a contract for technical support services for the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC). Prior to issuing the RFP, the CO had determined that performance of the contract could pose significant OCIs, and noted three known possible offerors that build and sell ocean monitoring equipment that could potentially submit a proposal for the acquisition and give rise to such OCIs. Offerors were informed of the potential OCIs, and were required to provide the CO with complete information regarding products that may be offered for sale that could be incorporated as part of NDBC’s ocean observing system, and to describe mitigation efforts for potential conflicts of interest.
In its proposal, SAIC disclosed that it sells two tsunami buoys that it believed were not likely to become part of NDBC’s ocean observance systems, but suggested two mitigation approaches if NDBC were to consider or procure either product. CSC stated that it did not offer for sale any equipment or products that could be incorporated as part of the ocean observance buoy system, and proposed to establish an advisory board that would perform internal OCI screenings. During discussions, the agency expressed concern with SAIC’s SDB participation and advised SAIC as to perceived shortcomings in its OCI mitigation plan. Award was made to CSC for providing the lowest-cost, highest-rated proposal.
The GAO found that the agency conducted a reasonable OCI investigation, pointing out that the agency did not simply rely on CSC’s statement that it did not sell products which could be incorporated into the ocean observation buoy system, but rather conducted its own research into CSC’s product offerings. The agency also investigated and analyzed whether the advisory role of CSC’s vice president or CSC’s proposal of Oceaneering as a subcontractor raised an OCI that could not be mitigated or neutralized when this issue was raised during the protest. The GAO pointed out that SAIC did not challenge the agency’s assertion that any OCI that might arise from CSC’s proposed advisory board could be easily mitigated, nor did it challenge the agency’s claim that SAIC’s proposed mitigation plan would impose an administrative burden and additional costs on the agency.
The GAO denied SAIC’s protest regarding its technical evaluation ratings, finding reasonable the agency’s concern that SAIC’s SDB participation plan was vague with regard to how it would be implemented, what percentages of work would be allocated to which company, and what labor categories might be earmarked for the type of work. It agreed with the agency that its consideration of ISO certification was reasonably related to quality assurance. The GAO also pointed out that SAIC did not identify any aspect of its proposal that establishes that its proposal should have been found technically superior to CSC’s. Based on its conclusions regarding the reasonableness of the agency’s evaluation, the GAO found no basis to question the CO’s reliance upon those evaluation judgments in her source selection.
Companies must always remain cognizant of potential OCIs as they operate in the government contracting arena. If the agency identifies in the RFP an area within a procurement in which there is potential for OCI, offerors must ensure that they address in detail whether their proposed approach presents the risk of an OCI and provide a detailed mitigation plan. All government contractors should maintain a general OCI plan, and regularly educate their employees on how OCIs can arise, how to prevent them, and what to do if an employee believes he or she has been exposed to information which could cause an OCI on a future contracting opportunity.