GAO Protests: Incumbent Contractor Rejected as Technically Unacceptable

Remember the “Dan & Dave” commercials for Reebok?  In advance of the 1992 Olympics, the shoe company launched an advertising campaign centered on the competition between two American decathletes, Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson.  At the time, O’Brien seemed like better bet–he was the reigning world champion and held a new world record in the sport.  Reebok’s campaign fizzled, however, when O’Brien missed the pole vault at the Olympic trials and failed to qualify for the U.S. team.  It didn’t matter that O’Brien was possibly the best decathlete in the world.  He didn’t do well at the trials, so he didn’t get a spot on the team.

If you are an incumbent contractor, Dan O’Brien’s story is worth keeping in mind.  As demonstrated in a recent GAO bid protest decision, if you write a technically unacceptable proposal, it doesn’t matter how well you have performed on the incumbent contract.  The agency can–and will–disqualify an incumbent contractor for writing an unacceptable proposal.

The GAO’s bid protest decision in GAO Protest of ASPEC Engineering, B-406423 (May 22, 2012), involved an Air Force solicitation for the operation of waste and water treatment plants.  Award was to be made to the lowest-priced technically acceptable offeror with satisfactory past performance.  For the purpose of evaluating technical acceptability, the solicitation included two technical evaluation factors: Key Personnel Qualifications and Personnel, and Workforce Management.  The Key Personnel factor was divided into two subfactors, Organization and Manpower/Experience.

ASPEC, the incumbent contractor for a portion of the services, submitted a proposal.  The Air Force evaluated it as unacceptable under the Organization subfactor, as well as the Workforce Management factor.  The Air Force went on to make award to one of ASPEC’s competitors.

The GAO held that the Air Force had properly rated ASPEC’s proposal as technically unacceptable.  For instance, the GAO noted that under the Organization subfactor, offerors were to describe how their personnel would be “used to ensure successful performance” of the contract.  ASPEC provided an organization chart, resumes, and job titles of its proposed personnel, but did not discuss how those individuals would be used to perform the contract work.  Similarly, under the Workforce Management factor, the solicitation called for a proposed shift schedule, but ASPEC did not provide one.

ASPEC argued, in part, that the Air Force “should have known it had the necessary capability to perform the contract based on its incumbent performance . . ..”  No dice.  The GAO wrote that ASPEC’s argument was “unpersuasive” and that “an offeror must submit an initial proposal that is adequately written and affirmatively states its merits, or run the risk of having its proposal rejected as technically acceptable where the proposal omits or provides inadequate information addressing fundamental factors.”  The GAO denied ASPEC’s protest.

The ASPEC Engineering GAO bid protest decision is a good reminder that even a successful incumbent cannot cut corners when it comes to writing a strong proposal.  Just like Dan O’Brien’s Olympic trials mishap, past success, alone, does not guarantee results.

One final note: Dan O’Brien’s story ended happily.  O’Brien put his 1992 failure behind him and continued training.  In 1996, he won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon.  O’Brien recently published a book discussing his perseverance and ultimate success following the 1992 debacle.

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