Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
Disposition: Protest denied.
Protest that agency evaluation and source selection decision were flawed where agency made award to higher-rated, significantly higher-priced offeror is denied where record shows that evaluation and source selection decision were reasonable and in accordance with stated evaluation criteria.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
In its protest, comments, and supplemental filings, Mangi asserts that the source selection decision (SSD) was flawed in that no technical advantage offered by the awardee could reasonably justify its significantly higher price, that the debriefing’s emphasis on Mangi’s relatively limited experience in NEPA regulation writing was not consistent with the areas the agency raised with Mangi in discussions, and that the agency may have improperly based its conclusion that Mangi materially underestimated the level of effort required on Mangi’s low proposed price, rather than its proposed labor hours. GAO states that in reviewing protests of an agency’s evaluation and source selection decision, GAO will not reevaluate proposals; rather, it will review the record to determine whether the evaluation and source selection decision are reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria, and applicable procurement laws and regulations. In a negotiated procurement, as here, the procuring agency has the discretion to select a higher priced, more highly rated proposal, if doing so is in the government’s best interest and is consistent with the solicitation’s stated evaluation and source selection scheme.
Mangi first alleges that any technical advantages offered by the awardee could not reasonably justify its significantly higher price, given Mangi’s apparent technical acceptability and much lower price. The RFP here stated not only that “all technical factors when combined, are significantly more important than cost,” but also that the technical factors were weighted in descending order of importance. While a review of the record indicates that many of the weaknesses the agency noted in Mangi’s proposal in fact are rooted in Mangi’s limited NEPA regulation writing experience, this issue reasonably resulted in Mangi’s proposal being assessed weaknesses under each of the technical evaluation factors, including the most heavily weighted factors.
For example, the SSD indicates that Mangi was assessed a weakness under the most heavily weighted factor, “approach and work plan,” based on its limited NEPA regulation writing experience, and was also assessed a “critical” weakness under the second most heavily weighted factor, “key personnel,” because only two of Mangi’s key staff had even nominal experience in regulatory writing. Thus, the general issue of Mangi’s lack of NEPA regulation writing experience reasonably led the agency to find serious weaknesses in its proposal under the two most important evaluation factors. In contrast, the SSD’s conclusions regarding the awardee’s proposal, and the awardee’s proposal itself, reveal that the awardee possessed significantly more experience, and experience that was significantly more recent and more specific to NEPA regulation rewriting, than that offered in Mangi’s proposal.
With regard to discussions, Mangi alleges that the agency’s emphasis in the debriefing on Mangi’s lack of NEPA regulation writing experience was not consistent with the areas raised in discussions, which it asserts were primarily focused on level of effort issues. Discussions, when conducted, must be meaningful; that is, they may not mislead offerors and must identify proposal deficiencies and significant weaknesses that could reasonably be addressed in a manner to materially enhance the offeror’s potential for receiving award. However, agencies satisfy this requirement where they lead offerors into the areas of their proposals that require amplification; agencies are not required to afford offerors all-encompassing discussions. Here, GAO’s review indicates that the discussions conducted by the agency were clearly adequate to put Mangi on notice that its limited experience in regulatory writing generally, as well as specifically with respect to NEPA, was considered a weakness. The protest is denied.