Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Technical Evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: An agency is accorded considerable discretion in making such a subjective judgment as to what best meets its needs, particularly where, as here, the judgment involves matters of human life and safety.
Sig Sauer, Inc. protests the rejection of its proposal under request for proposals (RFP), issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for semi-automatic handguns.
Offerors were instructed to submit written proposals and sample handguns, in both standard and compact sizes, to be evaluated in three phases. Under phase I, the handguns were to be evaluated on a pass/fail basis for compliance with the RFP’s specifications. Under phase II, ATF planned to perform a live-fire assessment of the guns, consisting of four parts. Offerors were informed that offers “deemed most suitable for performance” would continue to phase III. The RFP provided for the award of a single or multiple indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract to the offeror whose proposal was found to represent the best value after the phase III evaluation.
Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson Corp., and Glock, Inc. submitted proposals that were evaluated as passing phase I. During phase II, a record was kept of any stoppages or malfunctions that occurred during the live fire testing. The records show that ATF agents recorded 58 stoppages with Sig Sauer’s full-size and compact pistols, 13 of which were considered to be gun-induced and 45 shooter-induced. The source selection board recommended that Sig Sauer’s handgun be excluded from further consideration as unacceptable with respect to reliability. The contracting officer agreed.
Sig Sauer protested, challenging the agency’s phase II live-fire assessment. ATF took corrective action, stating that it would reconsider its phase II evaluations. ATF did not reconvene the source selection board or re-evaluate proposals. The contracting officer reviewed the live-fire assessment record, the phase II incident reports, and the declarations made during the original protest. The contracting officer found that Sig Sauer’s proposal was appropriately excluded due to the significant number of malfunctions.
Sig Sauer challenges the live-fire testing assessment, arguing that the source selection board substituted its own judgment for that of the agents that performed the testing. GAO states that in reviewing protests challenging the evaluation of proposals, it will not conduct a new evaluation or substitute our judgment for that of the agency but examine the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the RFP evaluation criteria.GAO affords particular deference to the technical expertise of agency personnel regarding judgments that involve matters of human life and safety. GAO finds that the agency’s assessment of Sig Sauer’s proposal was reasonable and consistent with the RFP’s evaluation criteria. The RFP provided that “[r]atings on the proposed [shooters’ tests], any stoppages or parts breakages during testing, and the written evaluations will be recorded and used to evaluate each model.” The record supports ATF’s assertion that it considered these things when it affirmed the source selection board’s earlier determination to exclude Sig Sauer. GAO agrees that the agency reasonably concluded that the stoppages provided a more significant measure of the guns’ reliability than the adjectival ratings for reliability assigned by individual shooters.
Sig Sauer asserts that ATF placed too great an emphasis upon reliability in determining which offers should continue to phase III. GAO disagrees since the RFP provided that only those offers which were “deemed most suitable for performance to the Government” would be included in the phase III evaluation. GAO finds that the agency could reasonably rely upon its concerns about the reliability of Sig Sauer’s handguns to exclude its proposal from the final phase. The protest is denied.