GAO: Subcontracting Plan Required by Solicitation Must be in Proposal

It’s a basic tenet of government contracting that a contractor must comply with the requirements of an agency solicitation. Those are the rules of the game. But in practice, there can be some tricky calls. For instance, what if a solicitation includes a requirement that appears to conflict with the FAR? Does an offeror still have to comply?

A recent GAO decision explored this situation in the context of a solicitation’s requirement for subcontracting plans.

The decision in Land Shark Shredding, LLC, B-415908 (March 29, 2018) concerned a solicitation from the VA for document shredding services. The RFQ was set aside for veteran-owned small businesses. The RFQ included three evaluation factors: technical, price, and past performance.

As part of the technical factor, the RFQ required vendors submit a subcontracting plan.  Under the subcontracting plan, vendors were to:

Provide proposed team, including all subcontractors and the duties which will be performed by the pertinent individuals. This information will enable the [contracting officer] to assess the contractor’s compliance with the limitations on subcontracting or percentage of work performance requirement.

The RFQ advised vendors that “[f]ailure to provide the information requested in the evaluation criteria may result in being found non-responsive.” The CO, in response to an inquiry about why it did not receive the award, told Land Shark Shredding, LLC that its quotation was nonresponsive, in large part because it did not provide a subcontracting plan.

Land Shark argued that, because it is a small business, and small businesses are not required to submit small business subcontracting plans, it should not have been found at fault for not submitting a subcontracting plan. The Solicitation included FAR 52.219-9, Small Business Subcontracting Plan, which the GAO agreed by its terms states that “[t]his clause does not apply to small business concerns.”

GAO held that the RFQ’s evaluation subfactor required the submission of a subcontracting plan, and the RFQ stated this would help the VA “assess the contractor’s compliance with the limitations on subcontracting or percentage of work performance requirement. Therefore, “it is clear that the RFQ required vendors to submit a subcontracting plan, not a small business subcontracting plan pursuant to the inapplicable FAR and VAAR clauses.”

In addition, Land Shark argued that it had informed the agency as part of its proposal that “use of subcontractors on the contract remained undecided, which served as its subcontracting plan” or, alternatively, that it might perform the work without subcontractors.

GAO didn’t buy that argument, holding that “Land Shark’s indecision about whether it will perform the work itself or employ a subcontractor to fulfill the requirements does not provide the information requested by the RFQ, and did not provide sufficient information to allow the VA to assess compliance with the limitations on subcontracting requirement.”

GAO also noted that, to the extent Land Shark was protesting that the subcontracting plan requirement itself was unnecessary for the procurement, this was an untimely challenge to the terms of the solicitation.

Viewed through the GAO’s eyes, it seems like a simple decision that when a solicitation calls for a subcontracting plan, a contractor must submit one. However, from the contractor’s perspective, (a) the solicitation was asking for something that was not required under the FAR and (b) the contractor attempted to honestly state in its proposal that it did not know if it would use subcontractors. After all, this was a paper shredding contract, probably on the less complicated end of the universe of government contracts.

GAO, as usual, stuck to the rules of the game: if it’s required in the solicitation, it better be in the proposal. As GAO noted, if you don’t think the solicitation requirements are reasonable, that is a pre-award challenge.