Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
Disposition: Protest denied.
Keywords: Proposal evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: An offeror’s technical merit is judged on its proposal as drafted and not on an Agency’s knowledge of the offeror’s satisfactory past performance.
A contract for medical transcription services was originally awarded by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to eTrans Plus for the provision of services to multiple VA medical facilities. T-C Transcription, Inc., the incumbent contractor and one of the unsuccessful bidders, protested this award, which GAO sustained. In conjunction with sustaining the protest, GAO recommended that the VA prepare a new source selection decision for the two locations where its misevaluation had prejudiced T-C’s chances for an award. The VA reevaluated and again made an award to eTrans, which prompted another protest by T-C. This time T-C challenged the VA’s reevaluation as being inconsistent with GAO’s recommendation and that the source selection decision was unreasonable.
In its reevaluation, the VA prepared detailed evaluation notes related to the technical evaluation that identified strengths, weaknesses, and areas of uncertainty in T-C’s proposal. Based on these notes, the contracting officer (CO) prepared a new source selection decision, which compared eTrans and T-C. While T-C’s reevaluated rating for the technical factor was good and eTrans’ was satisfactory, the CO noted that T-C’s prices were higher for both locations. Based on a cost-technical tradeoff, the CO determined that T-C’s technical advantages were not worth the price premium at either location.
T-C protested that the VA’s evaluation was unreasonable because none of the ratings changed, that the overall rating of good for T-C was unreasonable, and that the VA made an unreasonable tradeoff decision. In response, the VA stated that unlike the initial evaluation record, the reevaluation clearly shows an acknowledgement by the CO that T-C was rated higher, but that the tradeoff analysis yielded a choice of eTrans over T-C based on the differences in price. GAO disagreed with T-C’s choice to argue that the VA’s knowledge of T-C’s performance as the incumbent should have been considered as a substitute for a well-written proposal. Instead, T-C should have attempted to demonstrate that its proposal provided the information that the VA found lacking.
T-C also challenged the notion that the VA treated the two reevaluated locations as a unit in making its new decision. However, the VA, in its agency report, pointed out that the record showed that the CO had considered T-C for each location, and had specified the price differences for each.
Finally, GAO acknowledged the settled view that it is reasonable for an agency to select a lower-rated, lower-priced proposal, even where price is a less important factor than technical merit, where it reasonably concludes that the price premium involved is not justified. These tradeoffs are judged on rationality and consistency with the evaluation criteria and are based on the record before the source selection official. GAO determined that the VA acted reasonably, therefore it denied T-C’s protest.