In Recent Decision, GAO Finds Agency Documentation Lacking

When choosing the most appropriate awardee for any federal contract, agencies are required to fully document all procurement decisions and their rationale, especially when those decisions could narrow the competition.

In Soft Tech Consulting, Inc., B-416934 (Comp. Gen. Feb. 1, 2019), GAO held that the Department of Homeland Security failed to adequately document its evaluation decision in a procurement for software development services and recommended that DHA reevaluate all offers from square one.

To compete for RFQ No. 70SBUR19Q00000249, offerors were required to be “small business vendors holding a GSA Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contract under Schedule 70, special item number 132-51 (Information Technology Professional Services).” Under IT 70, contractors could be required to provide personnel at three different levels of experience: entry, mid, and high. When associated with different staffing positions, each level of experience corresponded with a different number of years of experience. Of importance, entry-level “Technical Staff III” under the FSS were required to have two to four years of experience and entry-level “Technical Staff IV” required three to five years of directly relevant experience.

RFQ offerors here were to propose teams of professionals to complete the work solicited. Specifically, the RFQ required all offerors to complete a template including titles and experience levels for each proposed team member. The RFQ required all personnel to be of “mid-level to senior level” categories, but did not provide any information about the number of years of experience associated with either level.

Soft Tech Consulting, an offeror, submitted its template providing the title “Technical Staff-III EL” and the abbreviation “Mid.” for experience level associated with one position, and the title “Technical Staff-IV EL” and “Senior” for a number of Business Analyst positions. DHS evaluators concluded that “EL” meant “entry level” and that Soft Tech therefore did not meet the RFQ requirements and would be excluded from the competition. After excluding Soft Tech, DHS awarded to Dev Tech, another offeror. Soft Tech protested, arguing DHS did not appropriately document its decision and failed to equally evaluate all offerors. GAO agreed.

GAO first explained that adequate documentation of evaluation decisions is essential to show whether or not an agency has acted reasonably. Here, GAO held, DHS failed to explain “why, when reviewing Soft Tech’s quote of personnel labeled as ‘Technical Staff-III EL,’ and ‘Technical Staff-IV EL,’ the agency did not recognize that Soft Tech was proposing mid- to senior-level personnel, or senior-level personnel.” Further, GAO also noted that the record failed to show “whether the agency considered two to four years, or three to five years of experience sufficient to constitute mid-level to senior-level.” In all, GAO concluded that DHS only conducted a “cursory level of review not permitted by the terms of the solicitation.”

In contrast with its evaluation of Soft Tech, DHS decided that Dev Tech was the appropriate awardee, though Dev Tech did not specify the level associated with each of its proposed personnel at all. “As such,” GAO determined, “neither [Soft Tech’s or Dev Tech’s] quotations was clear as to whether it was proposing exclusively mid-to senior- level personnel,” but DHS only downgraded Soft Tech. Without any explanation as to how DHS decided on this course of action, GAO held that DHS’ choice was not appropriately supported and recommended a full reevaluation of all offers submitted.

As the Department of Defense moves to implement enhanced debriefing requirements, this case serves as another important reminder to contracting officers: because documentation is essential to demonstrate whether or not a decision is entirely reasonable, adequate documentation of all procurement decisions is necessary.