Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of State
Disposition: Protest sustained
Keywords: Documentation of Evaluation
General Counsel P.C. Highlight: Where an agency fails to provide documentation of its evaluation, it bears the risk that there may not be adequately supporting rationale in the record for GAO to conclude the agency had a reasonable basis for its evaluation and selection decision.
Technology Concepts & Design, Inc. (TCDI) protests the issuance of a task order by the Department of State under a task order request for proposals (RFP) for technical support to the agency’s Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, Office of Verification Operations (VCI/VO).
The RFP provided for the issuance of a labor-hour, performance-based task order under the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Commerce Information Technology Solutions – Next Generation (COMMITS) government-wide acquisition contract to provide information technology support services to VCI/VO. The solicitation stated that the task order would have a base performance period of a year with four option years, and provided for a 30-day transition period. The RFP described a broad range of support services that would be provided, including operation and management of computer facilities and networks; software design, development and support; analytical, technical and subject matter expertise on IT requirements in support of arms control related subjects; cyber security; and operation of help desks. In this regard, the RFP provided, as a guideline, an overall operational level of support and the current staffing model (identified by labor category and full-time equivalents (FTE) assigned to that category). Offerors were advised to formulate staffing plans based on their best business judgment.
Following an initial protest by TCDI and offer, by the agency, to take corrective action, the TEP reevaluated proposals and provided a new evaluation report to the contracting officer. The TEP ultimately concluded that the proposals of the awardee and TCDI met the basic requirements of the RFQ, but determined that the awardee’s proposal was technically superior due to the number of strengths identified in the proposal compared to the other proposals. As a result, the TEP recommended that the task order be issued to the awardee. The agency also evaluated the offerors price proposals and the awardee offered the lowest price of $46,067,061. The contracting officer, who was the source selection authority, disagreed with the TEP’s conclusion that the awardee’s proposal was technically superior. Instead, the contracting officer determined that, based upon their overall green ratings, the awardee’s, TCDI’s, and another offeror’s proposals were technically equal. The task order was issued to the awardee on the basis of that firm’s lower price.
TCDI broadly objects to the evaluation of its and the awardee’s proposals. In this regard, TCDI challenges many of the weaknesses evaluated in its proposal. TCDI also challenges the agency’s price evaluation, asserting the agency failed to assess the realism of the awardee’s low price.
GAO states that in reviewing protests of alleged improper evaluations and source selections, even in a task order competition as here, it does not reevaluate proposals, but rather it examines the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws and regulations. In order for GAO to review an agency’s evaluation judgment, an agency must have adequate documentation to support its judgment. GAO does not limit its review to contemporaneous evidence, but considers all the information provided, including the parties’ arguments, explanations, and documentation prepared in response to protest contentions. While GAO considers the entire record, including the parties’ later explanations and arguments, it will accord greater weight to contemporaneous evaluation and source selection material than to arguments and documentation prepared in response to protest contentions. Where an agency fails to provide documentation of its evaluation, it bears the risk that there may not be adequately supporting rationale in the record for GAO to conclude the agency had a reasonable basis for its evaluation and selection decision.
GAO finds that although State contends that TCDI’s work on a prior project was not timely completed, the evaluation does not address TCDI’s explanation as to why the firm was not responsible for problems in the database. The agency also does not address in any fashion TCDI’s arguments with respect to the assessed concerns with other aspects of its performance. In short, State has failed to provide either contemporaneous documentation or subsequent explanation supporting its assessment of this weakness in TCDI’s proposal.Accordingly, GAO finds from the record that State did not have a reasonable basis for the assignment of this weakness in TCDI’s proposal.
Next, TCDI challenges the agency’s assessment of a weakness under the corporate experience subfactor that TCDI’s proposal lacked “depth and breadth of experience relevant to working within the Federal sector” as compared to other offerors’ proposals. GAO finds that the agency does not identify where in the RFP offerors were notified that the depth, breadth, and scope of an offeror’s relevant work for other federal agencies was a requirement. Moreover, GAO finds that the agency’s evaluation record does not demonstrate that the assignment of this weakness was reasonable. State does not explain why TCDI’s experience as the incumbent did not provide sufficient experience working with other agencies, such as Commerce and the Department of Defense.
TCDI also challenges State’s evaluation of its proposal under the personnel qualifications/management factor, where it received a rating of green. Although the TEP noted that TCDI, as the incumbent, had nearly all staff cleared and ready to immediately perform, it also noted that TCDI had failed to propose any teaming partner staff. Specifically, the TEP stated that, although TCDI’s proposal stated that the firm had sufficient access to staff through its teaming partner to meet any perceived shortfalls related to certification or expertise, TCDI did not specifically offer any staffing from its teaming partner. State does not refute TCDI’s arguments, nor does it provide an explanation for the apparent inconsistency between the weakness assigned under one evaluation factor and the strength assigned in a subfactor. Rather, State merely notes that TCDI’s proposal was rated green under this evaluation factor. GAO finds that there is no basis to find State’s evaluation to be reasonable, given the agency’s failure to provide any documentation or support for its evaluation. The protest is sustained.