If your high school teacher or college professor had asked you to compose an essay up to five pages in length, would you expect an “A” for writing a single paragraph?
Probably not, and the same principle applies when it comes to proposals. In a recent GAO bid protest decision, the agency gave contractors up to five pages to describe each past performance reference. Not surprisingly, the GAO held that it was reasonable for the procuring agency to downgrade an offeror’s past performance score when that offeror only provided a one-paragraph write-up of each project.
The GAO’s decision in GAO Protest of LOGMET LLC, B-407061 (Oct. 17, 2012), involved an Air Force procurement for logistics material control activity, or LMCA, serves at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The solicitation included two award factors: past performance and price. (Side note: purely from my own recent experience, these types of “past performance and price only” solicitations appear to becoming more common).
With respect to the past performance factor, the solicitation instructed offerors to provide up to five references, with up to five pages on each reference, of contracts performed in the previous three years demonstrating relevant past performance. The solicitation cautioned offerors to provide sufficient information to allow the Air Force to conduct a meaningful past performance evaluation.
LOGMET LLC submitted a proposal, including three past performance references. For each reference, LOGMET provided a description consisting of a single paragraph, approximately one-half of a page in each case.
The Air Force found that the brief description of each reference “made it difficult to ascertain the relevance of these contracts to the PWS requirements.” The Air Force assigned LOGMET a “Satisfactory Confidence” past performance score, and awarded the contract to a competitor.
LOGMET filed a GAO bid protest, complaining that the agency’s past performance evaluation was unreasonable. LOGMET argued that it should have received a higher past performance score. LOGMET noted that it was currently performing LMCA services at another Air Force Base, which should have led the Air Force to recognize that it possessed the knowledge and experience necessary to perform the contract.
The GAO wrote that “[i]n an exercise of its own business judgment, LOGMET submitted a proposal with a scant, half-page listing of the duties and functions of each reference although the RFP provided offerors with up to five pages per reference to demonstrate the relevance of their experience.” The GAO found that LOGMET’s brief write-ups did not include all of the past performance information required by the solicitation.
Further, LOGMET’s argument that it was currently performing LMCA services elsewhere “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the proposal process.” The solicitation notified offerors that their proposals themselves must demonstrate relevant past performance. LOGMET “essentially argues that it did not need to comply with the solicitation instructions . . ..”
The GAO, of course, found that LOGMET was required to follow the solicitation and demonstrate relevant experience within the proposal itself. The GAO denied LOGMET’s protest.
The LOGMET GAO bid protest decision demonstrates that it is very important for offerors to provide procuring agencies with sufficient detail in their proposals. Particularly when the proposal instructions provide a “not to exceed” length, a response weighing in at a fraction of that length may be deemed insufficiently detailed.