Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest denied.
- Protest challenging contracting agency’s evaluation of protester’s proposal is denied where agency’s evaluation was reasonable and in accordance with the solicitation evaluation criteria.
- Price/technical tradeoff was reasonable where source selection official identified technical distinctions between competing proposals and specifically determined that higher technically rated proposal represented best value despite higher price.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
Yates first protests the agency’s evaluation of its design technical proposal. Specifically, the protester claims that the three weaknesses assigned by the SSEB to its proposal under this evaluation factor were improper. Yates also argues that the agency’s determination that it did not fully understand the “progressive collapse” option line items was unreasonable. The protester maintains that had the Corps of Engineers properly evaluated its proposal, it would have received a higher rating equal to that received by Walton. GAO states that in reviewing an agency’s evaluation, GAO will not reevaluate offerors’ proposals; instead, GAO will examine the agency’s evaluation to ensure that it was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria and procurement statutes and regulations. An offeror’s mere disagreement with the agency’s evaluation is not sufficient to render the evaluation reasonable. Again, although GAO does not here specifically address all of Yates’ arguments, GAO has fully considered each of them and finds that they provide no basis on which to sustain the protest.
The RFP stated that “The design-technical factor consists of conceptual level presentation drawings, technical approach narratives and information regarding material and system quality. [An offeror’s proposal] must clearly define the proposed scope and quality levels that the design-build team is offering to the Government in enough detail for the Government and the Offeror to mutually understand whether or not the proposal meets or exceeds the minimum solicitation requirements.” The SSEB found three strengths and three weaknesses in Yates’ FPR as to the design technical factor, thereby resulting in the assigned adjectival rating of “acceptable.” Specifically, the evaluators found that: (1) the drawing details provided for the wall section and exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) did not provide adequate information to determine compliance with the RFP requirements; (2) the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system worksheets did not provide project-specific information to support the points required to achieve the required LEED “silver” rating; and (3) the proposed use of concrete whitetopping as an alternate design for parking lot repairs was not a desirable process and would not provide the desired results. The SSA, in his source selection decision, included additional details for the weaknesses found in Yates’ design technical proposal.
GAO finds the agency’s evaluation of Yates’ proposal here to be reasonable. It is an offeror’s responsibility to submit a well-written proposal, with adequately detailed information, which clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows for a meaningful review by the procuring agency. Here, Yates failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate that its design qualified for the required LEED “silver” rating. Yates essentially left blank the area of the LEED project checklist that required the offeror to provide detail in support of the points claimed for “innovation in design,” and no other part of the offeror’s proposal remedied this deficiency. Given the lack of information provided by Yates in support of the claimed LEED “silver” rating, GAO finds the agency’s determination to be reasonable.
Yates also challenges the agency’s assignment of a weakness to its proposed use of concrete whitetopping for parking lot repairs. The agency found Yates’ proposed whitetopping as an alternate design was not a desirable process, concluding that it would not provide the desired results. When an offeror proposes two alternate designs for the accomplishment of a solicitation requirement, and leaves the choice of methods that it actually employs to its sole discretion, GAO finds that the agency may properly evaluate the merits of both designs proposed. Here it is clear that Yates proposed to accomplish the parking lot repair requirement by applying an asphalt overlay, but also proposed the use of concrete whitetopping as an alternate design. Further, the proposal indicated that the overlay method actually employed (asphalt or concrete) was solely the offeror’s choice–the determination of whether “existing site conditions support a sustainable design and installation and if whitetopping installation does not add additional costs” was to be made by Yates’ design-build team.
GAO finds the agency’s evaluation here to be reasonable. The record reflects that the agency was aware that Yates’ proposed use of whitetopping was an alternate design approach when evaluating the offeror’s proposal. The agency reasonably considered the strengths and weaknesses of the various methods which Yates proposed to use. An offeror cannot expect to “have it both ways” when it proposes alternative methods to accomplishing a performance requirement–receiving credit if the agency determines an alternative design to be advantageous but not being penalized if the agency determines an alternative design to be disadvantageous. To the extent that Yates elected to propose an alternate design, and did not make its primary method of milling and asphalt overlay one that it would guarantee to use in all instances, the agency reasonably considered the merits of the alternate design and found it to be a weakness. In sum, based on the strengths and weaknesses found in the offeror’s proposal, GAO finds the agency’s evaluation of Yates’ proposal as to the design technical factor to be reasonable.
Yates also protests the Corps of Engineers’ best-value tradeoff determination. Specifically, the protester argues that the agency’s decision was improper because it failed to properly consider Walton’s higher price and because it failed to sufficiently document the rationale for the tradeoff determination. GAO states that where solicitations provide for award on a “best value” or “most advantageous to the government” basis, it is the function of the source selection authority to perform a price/technical tradeoff, that is, to determine whether one proposal’s technical superiority is worth the higher price, and the extent to which one is sacrificed for the other is governed only by the test of rationality and consistency with the stated evaluation criteria. Where a price/technical tradeoff is made, the source selection decision must be documented, and the documentation must include the rationale for any tradeoffs made, including the benefits associated with the additional costs.
Contrary to Yates’ assertions, GAO finds that the source selection decision adequately documented the agency’s rationale for the tradeoff made, including the benefits associated with the higher price. The propriety of such a price/technical tradeoff decision turns not on the difference in the technical scores or ratings per se, but on whether the source selection official’s judgment concerning the significance of the difference was reasonable in light of the RFP’s evaluation scheme. Here, the SSA properly looked behind the evaluation ratings and considered the underlying qualitative merits that distinguished the offerors’ proposals, including the awardee’s better and more detailed design approach and a contract duration that was [DELETED] days less than both the RFP requirement and that proposed by Yates. Consistent with the RFP’s provision that nonprice factors when combined were significantly more important than price, the SSA reasonably concluded that the $20.68 million price premium associated with Walton’s proposal was justified by its greater technical merit. As the SSA stated, Walton’s superior design, past performance, specialized experience, and contract schedule warranted the associated price premium. Under these circumstances, GAO sees no basis to question the agency’s decision to make award to Walton. The protest is denied.