Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
Agency’s evaluation of a firm’s past performance provided in its qualifications statement submitted in response to a synopsis for architect/engineer services is unobjectionable, where the evaluation was reasonable and conducted in accordance with the evaluation factors set forth in the synopsis.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
SEI specifically argues that the agency’s evaluation of SEI’s past performance was inconsistent with the terms of the solicitation, in that the agency considered the five completed past performance questionnaires it received rather than information obtained from the PPIRS and ACASS regarding SEI’s past performance, which SEI asserts was required by the terms of the solicitation.
As mentioned previously, the agency queried the relevant PPIRS and ACASS, and found no entries regarding SEI’s past performance, and as such, there was nothing for the agency to consider in this regard. Therefore, the agency, knowing that SEI had performed relevant contracts, given SEI’s status as the incumbent contractor and the information submitted by SEI in both its initial and revised qualifications statements, obtained information from the points of contact identified by SEI in another section of its qualifications statement because of SEI’s failure to provide points of contact in its revised past performance submission. GAO does not see anything unreasonable or improper in the agency’s actions here. Nor does it find that the agency’s actions are inconsistent with the terms of the solicitation, which provided that past performance information could be obtained from sources other than the ACASS and PPIRS.
The protester argues that the agency’s past performance evaluation evidenced unequal treatment, in that the agency considered information obtained from the ACASS and PPIRS for the other vendors, but not for SEI, and that the agency’s failures here resulted in SEI’s qualifications statement being downgraded because, according to the protester, past performance information obtained from the ACASS or PPIRS was given more weight by the agency than past performance information obtained through completed past performance questionnaires. Past performance information for SEI was not available from either the ACASS or PPIRS, and in GAO’s view, the agency, rather than treating firms disparately, reasonably obtained information regarding SEI’s past performance through the use of the questionnaires discussed above. However, there is nothing in the record to suggest that the agency accorded more weight to information obtained from the ACASS or PPIRS in the comparative ranking of firms to those, such as SEI, for which such information was not available. Simply put, the record reflects that SEI’s past performance rating of satisfactory plus was the result of the agency’s reasonable evaluation of the information received by the agency regarding SEI’s past performance, and SEI’s arguments here reflect nothing more than its misunderstanding of the record.
The protester next raises numerous arguments with regard to the adequacy of the past performance questionnaire used by the agency, and the completed questionnaires received by the agency. For example, the protester argues that the questionnaire used by the agency and sent to the relevant points of contact was inadequate because it included six open-ended questions, and was thus different than the ACASS evaluation form, that according to the protester, evaluates 32 design and engineering attributes.
Based upon a review of the questionnaires, GAO finds nothing objectionable regarding their composition. As explained by the agency, while the ACASS form has a number of different data points than the questionnaire, all factors mentioned on the ACASS form are reasonably related to both the synopsis criteria and to the factors in the questionnaire. For example, the questionnaires asked respondents to rate and provide a brief narrative explanation regarding the overall technical quality of A/E services provided, the firm’s ability to meet the design schedule and to comply with the contract’s administrative requirements, and the firm’s cooperativeness, responsiveness, and commitment to customer satisfaction. Although the protester clearly disagrees, GAO finds that the questionnaires were reasonably constructed and adequate for their intended purpose, even though they differed from the ACASS evaluation form.
The protester complains that one of the questionnaires was sent to the wrong point of contact, asserting here that the individual who completed the questionnaire was not the individual provided as the point of contact in SEI’s revised qualifications statement, and in SEI’s view, would not have the same level of familiarity with the project as the individual designated as the point of contact in SEI’s revised qualifications statement. However, both individuals were identified by SEI–the individual contacted by the agency was in SEI’s initial qualifications statement, and the individual that SEI asserts should have been contacted was in SEI’s revised qualifications statement. Moreover, there is no requirement that an agency contact the specific individual designated by the vendor as the point of contact when seeking past performance information. Rather, the relevant inquiry as to who may furnish a past performance reference is whether the individual has a sufficient basis of knowledge to render an informed opinion regarding the vendor’s prior work efforts. SEI’s complaint here is that the individual contacted is not as familiar with SEI’s work as the individual SEI would prefer to have been contacted, not that the individual contacted was unfamiliar with SEI’s work. Additionally, we again note that the list of projects that SEI submitted with its revised qualifications statement failed to identify any points of contact in the past performance section, and the agency, on its own initiative, identified points of contact for these projects by referring to the section of SEI’s initial qualifications statement that addressed the specialized experience and technical competence factor. Although SEI would have preferred that the questionnaire be sent to the point of contact for this project SEI had listed in its revised, rather than initial, qualifications statement, we cannot find that the agency acted unreasonably given the circumstances here.
SEI also complains that two of the questionnaires were inadequately completed given that they provided, for the most part, ratings of satisfactory without narrative explanation. However, SEI does not assert or provide any evidence that the overall ratings of its performance as satisfactory for these two projects was unreasonable, and as such, SEI has not explained and GAO fails to see how SEI was prejudiced by the allegedly inadequate questionnaires considered by the agency here. In addition, SEI complains that on one project, SEI received a contemporaneous rating of exceptional for its past performance as indicated on a survey form prepared by a government representative, which was provided by SEI with its revised qualifications statement, whereas that same individual also completed a questionnaire for this procurement regarding SEI’s performance on that same project and assessed it as satisfactory plus.
The agency recognized this difference and explained that during the evaluation it gave deciding weight to the questionnaire rather than to the survey form [because] the questionnaire more closely tracked the synopsis criteria. In this regard, the agency has provided a detailed analysis of the survey form and past performance questionnaire, pointing out that the survey form contained items not relevant to this A/E procurement, which were more suited to a construction procurement as opposed to one for A/E services. Although the protester disagrees with the agency’s actions here and suggests that because they were not reported in the contemporaneous evaluation documentation they should be discounted, GAO finds the agency’s explanation to be reasonable and consistent with the evaluation record.
SEI argues that past performance information regarding contracts performed by two of its proposed subcontractors that SEI had included in the section of its revised qualifications statement addressing the specialized experience and technical competence factor was unreasonably found by the agency not to be relevant in size, scope and similarity to the services being procured here. In response, the agency has provided a detailed explanation as to why, in its view, the projects were not considered relevant because, rather than being for design, one of the projects involved the preparation of an environmental impact statement and the other involved planning and siting. While the protester asserts that the agency’s determination to only consider design projects to be relevant past performance was too narrow because the services to be provided here could include the type of services that were provided under the referenced projects, GAO finds that the agency reasonably determined that these projects were not relevant to the agency’s evaluation of SEI’s qualifications statement under the past performance factor, given the basic scope of services included in this A/E procurement. The protest is denied.