Offeror Attempts To “Evade” RFQ Page Limit; GAO Sustains Protest

An offeror’s apparent attempt to engage in a little proposal gamesmanship has resulted in a sustained GAO bid protest.

In a recent case, an offeror attempted to evade a solicitation requirement that proposals be no more than 10 single-spaced pages, by cramming its proposal into less than single-spacing.  The GAO wasn’t having it, sustaining a competitor’s protest and holding that the “spacing gamesmanship” had given the offeror an unfair advantage.

The GAO’s decision in DKW Communications, Inc., B-412652.3, B-412652.6 (May 6, 2016) involved a Department of Energy RFQ seeking three fixed-price task orders for various support services.  The task orders were to be awarded under a RFQ issued to blanket purchase agreement holders under multiple federal supply schedules, including Schedule 70.

The RFQ stated that quotations should be submitted in three volumes: technical, past performance, and price.  With respect to the technical volume, the RFQ informed vendors that quotations would be limited to 10 pages and that material in excess of 10 pages would not be evaluated.  The RFQ further provided that “the text shall be 12 point (or larger) single-spaced, using Times New Roman Courier, Geneva, Arial or Universal font type.”

After evaluating competitive quotations, the agency awarded the task orders to Criterion Systems, Inc.  DKW Communications, Inc., an unsuccessful competitor, then filed a GAO bid protest challenging the award to Criterion.

During the course of the protest, DKW apparently received Criterion’s technical proposal (I assume, although it is not stated in the decision, that the proposal was provided only to DKW’s outside counsel, under a GAO protective order).  DKW then filed a supplemental protest arguing that Criterion had violated the 10-page limit by compressing the line spacing of its technical proposal to be less than the single-spacing required by the RFQ.

The GAO wrote that “[a]s a general matter, firms competing for government contracts must prepare their submissions in a manner consistent with the format limitations established by the agency’s solicitation, including any applicable page limits.”  Consideration of submissions that exceed established page limitations “is improper in that it provides an unfair competitive advantage to a competitor that fails to adhere to the stated requirements.”

The GAO noted that Criterion “used different spacing for both volumes 1 and 3, which had no page limitations, than it did for the technical volume, which had a 10 page limit.”  In volumes 1 and 3, “Criterion used spacing that yielded approximately 44 lines per page.”  However, for the technical volume, Criterion “used dramatically smaller line-spacing for each of the 10 pages, resulting in approximately 66 lines per page.”  (The GAO’s PDF decision provides a visual comparison of the spacing differences between the volumes).  The GAO continued:

Accordingly, it appears that Criterion implemented compressed line-spacing in a deliberate and intentional effort to evade the page limitation imposed by the RFQ, especially when compared to the other parts of its quotation.  Criterion’s significant deviation from the other two volumes of its quotation effectively added approximately three to four pages to the 10-page limitation.  In our view, this was a material change from the RFQ’s instructions that gave Criterion a competitive advantage.

The GAO sustained DKW’s protest.

Offerors faced with tight page limitations can be tempted to try to fit as much in those pages as possible.  But as the DKW Communications protest shows, attempting to evade a page limit can have serious (and negative) repercussions.