GAO: Agency Need Not Perform Calculations For Offeror

An agency ordinarily is not required to perform calculations to determine whether an offeror’s proposal complies with a solicitation’s requirements, according to the GAO.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO rejected the protester’s argument that, in determining whether the proposal satisfied certain requirements, the agency should have used the information in the proposal to perform certain calculations.

The GAO’s decision in Mistral, Inc., B-411291.4 (Feb. 29, 2016) involved a DHS small business set-aside solicitation to obtain new mobile video surveillance systems.  The solicitation called for a best value evaluation considering three factors: technical, past performance, and price.

After taking corrective action in response to a bid protest, the DHS opened discussions with offerors in the competitive range, including Mistral, Inc.  In its written discussion questions for Mistral, the DHS asked Mistral to provide “an analysis and calculations” Mistral used to justify “the performance claims for Critical Failure Rate and Achieved Availability as prescribed in Section L of the solicitation.”  In response, Mistral’s final proposal revision directed the DHS to “the Excel spreadsheet (all formulas embedded)” submitted to the agency on a CD-ROM.

When the DHS examined the CD-ROM submitted by Mistral, it found only a PDF of the required information–not an Excel file.  Although Mistral provided a table with calculations, the DHS was unable to access the embedded calculations contained in the original Excel spreadsheet.  The DHS assigned Mistral a risk for failing to provide the formulas, and an overall “Satisfactory” rating for its technical proposal.  The DHS awarded the contract to a competitor, which also received a “Satisfactory” technical rating, but proposed a lower overall price.

Mistral filed a bid protest with the GAO.  Mistral argued, in part, that the agency could have derived the calculations and formulas from the information provided in the PDF, and therefore should not have assigned a risk for the supposed absence of this information.

The GAO wrote that Mistral “does not explain how this could or should be done.”  And, “[m]ore importantly . . . an agency is not required to perform calculations or adapt its evaluation to comply with an offeror’s submission in order to determine whether a proposal was compliant with stated solicitation requirements.”  The GAO continued:

Stated differently, the question is not what the agency could possibly do to cure a noncompliant submission, but rather, what it was required to do.  Based on our review of the record, we agree with the agency’s conclusions that without the substantiating evidence to support Mistral’s performance claims as required by the solicitation, and requested by the agency during discussions, it was reasonable to assign a medium risk to Mistral’s proposal in this area. 

The GAO denied Mistral’s protest.

The Mistral, Inc. protest is a good reminder that it is up to an offeror to prepare a thorough, well-written proposal, including all information required by the solicitation.  It is not the agency’s responsibility, in the ordinary course, to perform calculations using the information provided by the offeror to determine whether the proposal meets the solicitation’s requirements.

And of course, Mistral is also a warning to offerors to be sure that electronic proposals are submitted in the appropriate format.  Although PDFs are commonly used in the submission of electronic proposals, there are circumstances in which a PDF may not get the job done–such as in Mistral, where the underlying Excel calculations, which weren’t available in PDF format, were important to the evaluation.