Contractor Doesn’t Use Excel, Gets Booted From Competition

A prospective contractor was kicked out of a competition for submitting its pricing in PDF format, instead of in Microsoft Excel files, as called for in the solicitation.

In a bid protest filed by the excluded offeror, the GAO held that the procuring agency properly deemed the offeror unacceptable for failing to use Excel.

Somewhere, Bill Gates is smiling.

The GAO’s bid protest decision in Herman Construction, Inc., B-408018.2, B-408018.3 (May 31, 2013) involved a Department of Homeland Security solicitation for tactical infrastructure maintenance and repair services.  The solicitation, which was set-aside for small businesses, called for the award of a hybrid cost-plus-fixed-fee and fixed-price contract.

The solicitation instructed offerors to submit their proposals both on paper and electronically.  The solicitation stated that electronic price proposals were to be submitted in “XLS file format (at a minimum, Microsoft Excel 2003), with “all formulas and calculations” included.  The solicitation included a cost template guide as an attachment.  The guide was prepared in Excel and included Excel spreadsheet formulas for the calculation of labor category and total prices.

Nineteen prospective contractors submitted proposals.  After an initial review, the DHS rejected six of the nineteen proposals for failing to comply with the solicitation’s Excel spreadsheet requirement.  Herman Construction, Inc. had submitted one of the rejected proposals.  Herman’s proposal provided the electronic pricing proposal in PDF format rather than Excel.

Herman filed a GAO bid protest.  Herman argued, in part, that its PDF files were an appropriate substitute for the Excel files and that Herman had provided all of the relevant information and formulas.

The GAO agreed with the DHS that even if Herman had provided all of the relevant information in PDF, reviewing the information in this format would “require a substantial amount of time . . . to either reformat the submission into Excel file format (to the extent that the evaluators could even do so), or manually adjust and add prices from up to 50 spreadsheets submitted by the protester for the fence and gates work category alone.”  The GAO denied the protest, writing, “[w]here proposal solicitation requirements are clear, an agency is not required to assume the risks of potential disruption to its procurement in order to permit an offeror to cure a defective proposal submission initiated by its failure to comply with mandatory solicitation requirements.”

To me, the most striking thing about the Herman Construction decision is that five other offerors made the same mistake as Herman.  I have to wonder just how “clear” the Excel requirement really was if almost a third of a large competitive field failed to comply.  That quibble aside, Herman Construction demonstrates the importance of carefully reviewing proposal submission requirements and scrupulously following them.  Even where, as in this case, the requirement could be viewed as a matter of form and not substance, failing to comply could cause the proposal to be excluded.

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