As our readers well know, a good proposal for a federal government procurement is an exercise in persuasive writing. You muster your creative powers to convince the source selection authority that you offer the best product or service, that your price is competitive, and that your past performance is stellar. So you invest heavily in your proposal writers; you review your proposal repeatedly to polish and ensure that it compels; you agonize.
But while the artistic portion of your proposal is, without dispute, extraordinarily important, don’t neglect the seemingly mundane–like CAGE codes. Get that wrong, and GAO just might sustain your competitor’s protest.
In United Valve Co., B- B-416277 et al. (July 27, 2018), GAO considered a protest alleging that the Defense Logistics Agency made an improper award because, based on the submitted CAGE code, the awardee did not appear to be an approved source sanctioned by the solicitation.
Under the RFP, the agency was looking for an indefinite quantity of helicopter damper assemblies for the UH-1 (I didn’t realize the U.S. still used this Vietnam-era helicopter . . . It must be a good piece of machinery!). The solicitation identified the dampers as critical source items and identified four approved sources, including the eventual awardee, Logistical Support, LLC. The solicitation also noted Logistical Support’s CAGE code as 55064 .
In Logistical Support’s proposal, it listed its business address on Prairie Street in Chatsworth, California and identified itself as the manufacturer of part number listed in the solicitation. Yet, Logistical Support listed a different CAGE code (1HFE7) from the one listed by the agency in the solicitation (55064).
Given this discrepancy, the agency contacted Logistical Support for clarification, asking:
You are quoting under CAGE Code 1HEF7; however you are listed as an approved source under CAGE Code 55064. They both appear to be associated with the same location. Is one of the CAGEs for administration purposes? Please advise.
In response, Logistical Support responded that “both Cage codes belong to the same facility as stated in the SAM registration. If needed, the quote can be changed to the 55064 cage code.” Apparently, Logistical Support’s proposal was never changed to reflect CAGE code 55064.
After due consideration of all proposals, Logistical Support was awarded the contract.
A contending offeror was not convinced that Logistical Support was the same entity identified as an approved source in the solicitation–even though the approved source and Logistical Support maintained the same address. It filed a bid protest, arguing that the agency acted unreasonably in concluding that the approved source and Logistical Support were the same legal entity because each was identified by a different CAGE code.
GAO was receptive to this argument. Citing its previous decisions, it observed that “[u]ncertainty as to the identity of an offering entity renders an offer technically unacceptable.” As a factual matter, it found that Logistical Support’s proposal nowhere reflected the CAGE code associated with the solicitation’s approved sources. And while it acknowledged that the SAM registration showed the entities associated with CAGE code 55064 and 1HEF7 were both named Logistical Support, LLC and had the same address, each entity possessed a different CAGE code, DUNS number, DBA name, and activation date.
Under these circumstances, GAO held that:
[T]he record is devoid of substantive evidence to show that [Logistical Support] was either the approved source identified in the solicitation or was qualified to offer a source control item. Given that the RFP identified the damper assemblies as a critical application item and a source control item required to be procured from either an approved source, or an entity that was qualified prior to award, on this record, we find unreasonable the agency’s determination that [Logistical Support’s] proposal was technically acceptable. . . . Accordingly, we sustain the protest.
In sustaining the protest, GAO recommended that the agency determine–and document–whether the awardee was qualified and eligible for award. And if not eligible, GAO recommended termination of the award for the government’s convenience and making the award to the protester. In addition, GAO also recommended that the agency reimburse the protester for its protest costs, including attorneys’ fees.
The lesson here: don’t get dragged into a protest because you forgot to cross all t’s and dot all i’s. GAO will hone in on seemingly insignificant details, especially when they concern a contractor’s identity. Put simply, you need to sweat the humdrum details in your proposal.