GAO: Past Performance Evaluation Must Heed Solicitation’s Definitions

The analysis of an offeror’s past performance is sometimes a crucial part of an agency’s evaluation of proposals. And an agency’s evaluation of past performance is ordinarily a matter of agency discretion.

Though broad, this discretion is not unlimited. An agency’s past performance evaluation must be consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria. GAO recently reaffirmed this rule, by sustaining a protest challenging an agency’s departure from its own definition of relevant past performance.

At issue in Delfasco, LLC, B-409514.3 (Mar. 2, 2015), was an Army solicitation that sought the production of two types of practice bombs and a suspension lug, used for attaching the bombs to aircraft. Offerors would be graded under a best value evaluation scheme, which had three factors: technical ability, past performance (which included subfactors for quality program problems and on-time delivery), and price. An offeror’s technical ability was significantly more important than its past performance and price; past performance and price were equally weighted.

The past performance evaluation was to consider the relevancy of the offeror’s prior work. Relevant past performance was defined “as having previously produced like or similar items . . . as items that have been produced using similar manufacturing processes, including experience with casting, machining, forging, metal forming, welding, essential skills and unique technologies required to produce the MK-76 with MK-14, BDU-33 and the 25lb Suspension Lug.” The solicitation’s evaluation criteria further explained that relevant past performance is that which “involved similar scope and magnitude of effort and complexities this solicitation requires,” while somewhat relevant past performance “involved some of the scope and magnitude of effort and complexities this solicitation requires.”

Three companies submitted offers under the solicitation. Delfasco—a previous producer of the two bombs and the lug—was one of the offerors. Delfasco’s proposal noted that it had previously produced “millions” of the practice bombs and “thousands” of the suspension lug sought by the Army. It also contemplated using existing practices, technology, personnel, and equipment to continue this production. Nevertheless, the Army gave Delfasco a somewhat relevant past performance rating.

GTI Systems also submitted a proposal. The Army’s evaluation of GTI’s past performance indicated that GTI had much more limited experience than Delfasco. The Army noted that GTI “lacked relevant past performance with respect to two necessary skills identified in the RFP, and only somewhat relevant experience with respect to another skill.” But even though the Army’s evaluation concluded that GTI “does not appear to have relevant experience i[n] all aspects that will be required on this solicitation,” it nonetheless found that GTI’s “past performance does involve a similar scope and magnitude of effort and complexities this solicitation requires giving the offeror an overall relevancy rating of ‘Relevant[.]’”

In sum, then, Delfasco was given a somewhat relevant past performance rating. GTI—who had never produced these same practice bombs or the suspension lug—was found to have relevant past performance. In part because of this rating difference, GTI was named the awardee.

Delfasco filed a GAO bid protest challenging the Army’s award decision. In the course of the protest, the Army admitted that Delfasco should have received a relevant past performance rating. Nevertheless, the Army argued, the award result would have been the same even if Delfasco had been assigned a relevant past performance rating.

Delfasco contended, however, that the Army’s errors went beyond the somewhat relevant past performance rating initially assigned to Delfasco. Additionally, Delfasco contended, the Army had erred by finding GTI’s past performance to be relevant instead of somewhat relevant.

GAO wrote that an agency’s evaluation of past performance is ordinarily “a matter of agency discretion.” However, that discretion is not unlimited. An agency’s past performance review must be “reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria and with the procurement statutes and regulations, [and] adequately documented.”

In this case, GAO found that the Army had not properly exercised its discretion. GAO referred back to the solicitation’s definition of relevant past performance, and noted that the Army found that GTI “had not demonstrated ‘any’ relevant experience” in casting or forging, and only somewhat relevant experience in machining. Thus, GAO found that “GTI ha[s] only demonstrated ‘some’ of the skills necessary to produce the bomb bodies.” Given “limited relevant experience,” GTI’s relevant past performance rating was not justified. GAO sustained Delfasco’s protest.

A disappointed offeror protesting a past performance evaluation often faces an uphill battle, given the discretion agencies typically enjoy in conducting their evaluations. But Delfasco affirms that this discretion is not unlimited—where an agency fails to follow its own past performance evaluation criteria, GAO will sustain a protest.