Agency Spam Filter Excludes Proposal; Offeror Loses Protest

An agency’s spam filter prevented an offeror’s proposal from reaching the Contracting Officer in time to be considered for award–and the GAO denied the offeror’s protest of its exclusion.

A recent GAO bid protest decision demonstrates the importance of confirming that a procuring agency has received an electronically submitted proposal because even if the proposal is blocked by the agency’s own spam filter, the agency might not be required to consider it.

GAO’s decision in Blue Glacier Management Group, Inc., B-412897 (June 30, 2016) involved a Treasury Department RFQ for cybersecurity defense services. The RFQ was issued as a small business set-aside under GSA Schedule 70.

The RFQ required proposals to be submitted by email no later than 2:00 p.m. EST on November 9, 2015. The RFQ advised that the size limitation for electronic submissions was 25MB.

Blue Glacier Management Group, Inc. electronically submitted its proposal at 10:55 a.m. EST on the due date. The total size of BG’s attachments was below the 25MB limitation specified in the RFQ.

But unbeknownst to BG or the contracting officer, the email was captured in the agency’s spam filter. The contracting officer did not receive the proposal email or any type of quarantine/spam notification. Five other proposals were timely received from other offerors without incident.

BG sent a follow-up email to the contracting officer on January 29, 2016, over two months after it first submitted its proposal. But, because the contracting officer did not recognize BG as a recent offeror for the proposal, she did not respond.

Another month passed before BG followed up again by phone on February 26, 2016. The contracting officer indicated that, from her standpoint, it appeared that BG had not submitted a proposal. BG explained that it had submitted a proposal and thought it was being considered for the award.

BG re-submitted its proposal via email on February 26, 2016, just as it had done on November 9. The contracting officer again did not receive it. The contracting officer consulted with the agency’s IT department and discovered the February 26 email had been captured in the spam filter. However, the IT department was unable to recover the original November 9 email because the agency’s email network automatically deletes emails in the spam filter after 30 days.

At this point, Treasury was in the final stages of evaluating proposals. The contracting officer declined to evaluate BG’s re-submitted proposal.

BG filed a GAO bid protest challenging the agency’s decision. BG’s argued, in part, that BG was not to blame for the fact that its proposal (which complied with the 25MB size limit) had been blocked by the agency’s spam filter.

The GAO wrote that “it is the vendor’s responsibility, when transmitting its quotation electronically, to ensure the delivery of its quotation to the proper place at the proper time.”  However, there is an exception where a proposal is under “government control” at the proper time. In order for the government control exception to apply, “a vendor must have relinquished custody of its quotation to the government so as to preclude any possibility that the vendor could alter, revise or otherwise modify its quotation after other vendors’ competing quotations have been submitted.”

In this case, “because Blue Glacier did not seek prompt confirmation of the agency’s receipt of its quotation, Blue Glacier’s November 9 email was automatically deleted from the agency’s system after 30 days.” The GAO continued:

Accordingly, the agency has no way to confirm the contents of the Blue Glacier email that entered the Treasury Fiscal Services network on November 9; that is, it has no way to confirm that the November 9 email included a quotation identical to the quotation furnished by the protester on February 26. Whether the protester actually altered its quotation is not the issue; rather, the issue is whether, under the circumstances, there is any possibility that the protester could have altered its quotation. This requirement precludes any possibility that a vendor could alter, revise or otherwise modify its quotation after other vendors’ competing quotations have been submitted. Because Blue Glacier was not precluded from altering its quotation here, the government control exception is inapplicable in this instance.

The GAO denied Blue Glacier’s protest.

Electronic proposal submission is increasingly common, and offers many advantages. But, as the Blue Glacier Management Group decision demonstrates, electronic submission can also carry unique risks–like agency spam filters.  As shown by Blue Glacier Management Group, it’s a very good idea for offerors to confirm receipt of electronic proposals, just in case.

Note: Megan Carroll, a summer law clerk with Koprince Law LLC, was the primary author of this post.