GAO to VA: Read the Whole Stinkin’ Proposal

If you’re an eight-year-old who has recently begun the literary journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, avert your eyes, because here comes a major spoiler: at the end of the Harry Potter series, a grown-up Harry, now married to his pal Ron’s sister, Ginny, sends his own child off to Hogwarts.  Oh, and Ron is married to Hermione, and they also have Hogwarts-bound offspring.

How do I know this culturally valuable information?  Because I read to the very end of the last Harry Potter book (yes, I’m one of those people).  Contrast this with the VA, which in a recent GAO bid protest case, refused to consider certain information presented by the protester because the information was contained in an exhibit to the proposal, not the narrative section.  The GAO’s reaction: “read the whole stinkin’ proposal, VA.”

The GAO’s decision in J.R. Conkey & Associates, Inc. dba Solar Power Integrators, B-406024.4 (Aug. 22, 2012) involved a VA procurement for the construction of a photovoltaic system at a VA Medical Center.  The solicitation called for a “best value” evaluation, with three technical factors considered: construction management, past performance,  and schedule.  Price was also to be considered, though it was “significantly” less important than the combined technical factors.

J.R. Conkey & Associates Inc., doing business under the name Solar Power Integrators, or SPINT for short, submitted a proposal.  For the construction management factor, for which offerors were required to demonstrate their corporate experience in performing relevant projects, SPINT’s proposal included brief details in a technical narrative section, and referred the VA to attached exhibits for more detailed information about each of the relevant projects.

The VA downgraded SPINT on the corporate management factor, awarding SPINT only 10 of 15 possible points.  The VA stated that its downgrade was due, in essence, to SPINT’s failure to include detailed information about its corporate experience in the narrative portion of its technical proposal.

SPINT filed a GAO bid protest.  SPINT alleged, in part, that the VA had improperly ignored the information included in the exhibits to its proposal, and that nothing in the solicitation prevented SPINT from using exhibits to present relevant information to the VA.

The GAO agreed with SPINT.  It wrote that an agency “does not have license to ignore information in a proposal that is readily apparent.”   The GAO continued, “the record here reflects that the allegedly missing information was not set forth in an unrelated section of the protester’s proposal; rather, it should was contained in a reasonably identified proposal exhibit, and the information shoudl have been apparent to the evaluators.”   The GAO deemed the VA’s evaluation unreasonable, and sustained the bid protest.

The GAO’s decision in the J.R. Conkey & Associates bid protest is a victory for common sense.  Unless the solicitation prohibits it, using a readily-identified exhibit to provide information to agency evaluators should be treated no differently than putting that information in the narrative section of the proposal.

Hopefully the VA will take note of the J.R. Conkey & Associates decision and instruct its evaluators to read the whole stinkin’ proposal in the future.  In the meantime, if any VA proposal evaluators are reading this post and are interested in, say, learning what happens at the end of the latest Jack Reacher novel, just give me a call.

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