Agency’s “Cut-And-Paste” Proposal Evaluation Upheld

An agency’s evaluation of proposals was not improper even though the Source Selection Authority “cut and paste” portions of a selection document used in a similar procurement–including typographical errors and a reference to a firm that had not submitted a proposal.

The GAO’s recent decision highlights an uncomfortable truth of government contracting: while the government can (and often does) demand nearly perfect proposals, the government may be able to get by with sloppy or lazy evaluations.

The GAO’s decision in Noble Supply and Logistics, B-410788.4 et al. (July 29, 2015) involved a DLA solicitation for maintenance, repair and operations supplies in the DLA’s south central region, geographical zones 1 and 2.  The solicitation called for two contracts to be awarded, one for each geographical region.

After evaluating competitive proposals, the DLA awarded the Zone 1 contract to SupplyCore Inc. and the Zone 2 contract to Science Applications International Corporation.  After learning of the awards and receiving a debriefing, Noble Supply and Logistics filed a GAO protest.

Noble argued, in part, that the SSA failed to exercise his independent judgment in making the source selection decision, as required by FAR 15.308.  Noble contended that the SSA merely adopted the conclusions and rationale of the Source Selection Decision Document from a prior procurement for similar contracts in the DLA’s southwest region.

In this regard, Noble identified “multiple passages in the two SSDDs that are similar, if not identical, including typographical errors and the assignment of strengths identified in the southwest region’s SSDD to the SSDD for this procurement.”  The identical text even included an identical paragraph explaining why SupplyCore had been selected over Noble.  Additionally, the south central SSDD included a reference to a company that had not even been included in the competitive range for that procurement.

At a GAO hearing, the SSA admitted that he had used the southwest region SSDD as a “template” for the preparation of the SSDD for the south central region because the two procurements were very similar.  He testified, however, that he had independently reviewed proposals for the south central procurement, and pointed to areas of the two evaluations that differed.

The GAO accepted the SSA’s testimony as credible.  The GAO held, “[i]n sum, while there is clear evidence that the SSA utilized the southwest SSDD as a template, the record–including credible hearing testimony provided by the SSA–supports the agency’s contention that the SSA exercised his independent judgment in making his selection decision for the south central awards for zones 1 and 2.”  The GAO denied Noble’s protest.

Obviously, I was not at the hearing, so I have no way to judge the credibility of the SSA’s testimony.  That said, the result in Noble Supply and Logistics is disturbing.  In my view, when an offeror invests the time and resources to prepare a strong proposal, the government owes the offeror a similar level of effort in the evaluation phase.  If nothing else, the SSA’s evaluation of competitive proposals in this case was so lazy that it calls into question whether Noble (and other offerors) truly got a full and fair review.

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