My least favorite college class was a physics course, supposedly for non-majors, which I took only to meet my graduation requirements. One week, we spent a great deal of class time going over some rather complex material in the main textbook. The following week, the professor gave a pop quiz–on completely different material, which I (along with many of my classmates) had not read very closely. Needless to say, I thought the whole thing was rather unfair.
A recent GAO bid protest decision brought back those unpleasant memories. In Rocamar Engineering Services, Inc., B-406514 (June 20, 2012), an agency gave an extra test to an unprepared contractor–and only that contractor. Fortunately, unlike my grade in that physics course, the result of this unfair pop quiz was overturned, by way of a sustained GAO protest.
The Rocamar Engineering GAO protest involved a Department of State solicitation for modular bastion wall defense systems for various Columbian army and police bases. The solicitation provided that the bastion wall defense systems were required to meet certain minimum force protection standards, including that they be fire proof. The solicitation called for the DOS to conduct tests on the defense systems to see whether they met the requirements.
Rocamar Engineering, Inc., submitted a proposal, and constructed a sample defense system for testing. The system passed the test with flying colors. However, after Rocamar had begun dismantling its sample defense system, the DOS showed up and announced a pop quiz–a second fire/burn test. This time, the partially-dismantled system failed.
Rocamar filed a GAO bid protest, alleging–as one would expect–that it was unfair and improper for the DOS to perform a fire/burn test on a partially-dismantled sample system. Rocamar also argued that it was unfair for the DOS to conduct a second fire/burn test on its sample system when the DOS had not conducted similar tests on other offerors’ sample systems.
The GAO agreed with Rocamar on both counts, sustaining the bid protest. It wrote that “there is nothing in the RFP that would reasonably suggest that testing would be performed on anything other than the fully assembled system. . . [n]or was any other offeror subjected to a similar test of its system.” The GAO concluded: “[b]ased on this record, we find that DOS’s second fire/burn test of Rocomar’s wall system was neither fair nor reasonable, and sustain the protest on this basis.”
The Rocamar Engineering GAO bid protest decision stands for an important principle: when contractors are subject to tests, those tests must be fair and equal. Perhaps those same principles will also find their way into academia. If so, physics professors, beware.