During the NFL’s recent replacement referee debacle, the rules of the game sometimes seemed to be in flux. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, for instance, convinced the replacement refs to give him two extra challenges by playing dumb about how the challenge process works. But with the “real” referees back on the field, NFL teams now know that they once again need to play by the rules.
When it comes to proposals, contractors, too, need to play by the rules. An agency solicitation sets forth the ground rules of the competition, and varying from those stated rules can result in an unacceptable offer–as one contractor recently discovered when it attempted to amend the solicitation’s pricing table.
The GAO’s decision in GAO Protest of CeReTechs Ltd., B-406873.3 (Sept. 25, 2012), involved an Army procurement for the expansion of information technology networks in Afghanistan. Offerors were to submit technical, past performance, and pricing proposals.
The solicitation required offerors to complete three pricing tables. The first of those tables required offerors to provide pricing for bandwidth in specified regions of the country. (The GAO website has a nice reproduction of the table. Click on the link in the paragraph above to take a look).
CeReTechs Ltd. was one of ten offerors to submit a proposal. However, CeReTechs modified the first pricing table to provide bandwidth prices based on distances, rather than a single price per kilometer per month for each region, as called for in the table. CeReTechs also suggested that bandwidth might not be available in certain regions.
After receiving initial proposals, the Army established a competitive range. The Army excluded CeReTechs’ proposal from the competitive range, in large part because CeReTechs had altered the pricing table.
CeReTechs filed a GAO bid protest complaining that its proposal should not have been eliminated. Not surprisingly, the GAO made short work of the protest.
“CeReTechs’ proposal deviated materially from the pricing requirements set forth in the RFP and was therefore unacceptable,” the GAO wrote. The GAO noted that by amending the table to provide distance-based pricing instead of pricing based on regions, CeReTechs had “made it impossible for the agency to calculate a fixed price for CeReTechs or compare CeReTechs’ prices with those of other offerors.” The GAO denied the bid protest.
The CeReTechs GAO bid protest decision demonstrates that when it comes to proposals, offerors must play the game as outlined in the solicitation. Trying to change the ground rules might have worked for Jim Harbaugh, but it didn’t work for CeReTechs, and probably won’t for other offerors in a similar situation.