Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Navy
Disposition: Request denied.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
GAO denied the request of Systems Research and Applications Corporation (SRA) that GAO recommend that the Department of the Navy, Military Sealift Command, reimburse attorneys’ fees and costs that SRA incurred in filing and pursuing a protest of a task order that the agency awarded to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) under a task order request for proposals (TORFP) for information technology services.
The Navy issued the TORFP to firms holding indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contracts under the agency’s SeaPort-e multiple award contract program. SRA was the incumbent contractor. The solicitation sought information technology support services and contemplated the award of a single, one-year, cost-plus-fixed-fee task order with two one-year options. The solicitation stated that award would be made to the offeror whose proposal represented the best value to the government, considering the following evaluation factors listed in descending order of importance: technical; past performance; socioeconomic considerations; and probable cost. The solicitation also incorporated numerous Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) clauses, including the clause at FAR § 52.222-46, which is titled Evaluation of Compensation for Professional Employees and provides that the procuring agency will evaluate an offeror’s professional employee compensation plan (salaries and fringe benefits) to assess the offeror’s ability to provide uninterrupted, high-quality work and the effect of the proposed compensation on the offeror’s ability to recruit and retain qualified personnel. This clause further provides that “proposals envisioning compensation levels lower than those of predecessor contracts for the same work will be evaluated on the basis of maintaining program continuity, uninterrupted high-quality work, and availability of required competent professional service employees.
SRA protested after the source selection authority found that the “small difference in strengths related to the non-cost factors in no way justifies the . . . difference in the evaluated probable cost advantage SAIC has over SRA.” SRA argued that the agency 1) improperly converted the basis of award from best value where non-cost factors were significantly more important than probable cost to lowest cost, technically acceptable; 2) unreasonably evaluated SAIC’s proposal by failing to evaluate the realism of SAIC’s proposed costs and failing to evaluate SAIC’s proposal in accordance with the clause at FAR § 52.222-46; 3) made an unreasonable best value determination; and 4) unreasonably failed to investigate whether SAIC may have had an unfair competitive advantage based on a former agency official’s alleged participation in SAIC’s proposal effort.
The Navy notified GAO that it would take corrective action and SRA filed a request for reimbursement of costs because, in SRA’s view, its protests were clearly meritorious and the agency unduly delayed taking corrective action. However, GAO found that based on the record presented, it could not conclude that SRA’s claim regarding the clause at FAR § 52.222-46 was clearly meritorious. The record reflected that the SSA made findings regarding SAIC’s comparatively low proposed costs and SRA’s higher hourly rates. The finding suggested that the agency may have engaged in some analysis of the firms’ proposed compensation. Whether such an analysis actually occurred and, if it did, whether the analysis was consistent with the requirements of the clause at FAR § 52.222-46 required further development, which was why GAO requested that the agency provide any additional documentation. Because the ultimate resolution of this claim required further development, the protest claim presented a close question, and therefore was not clearly meritorious.