Resolving a protest challenging a past performance evaluation, GAO is deferential to the agency’s determinations. It is primarily concerned with whether the evaluation was conducted fairly and in accordance with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria; if so, GAO will not second-guess the agency’s assessment of the relevance or merit of an offeror’s performance history.
For protesters, therefore, challenging an agency’s past performance evaluation can be difficult. But a recent decision makes clear this task is not impossible—GAO will sustain a protest challenging a past performance evaluation if the agency treats offerors differently or unfairly, such as by more broadly reviewing the awardee’s CPARs than the CPARs of the protester.
At issue in CSR, Inc., B-413973 et al. (Jan. 13, 2017) was the Department of Justice’s evaluation and award of a blanket purchase agreement to Booz Allen Hamilton. The BPA sought performance measurement tool services for the Office of Justice Programs, to assist with the Office’s award of grants to federal, state, local, and tribal agencies for criminal justice, juvenile justice, and victims’ matters.
According to the solicitation, offerors were allowed to submit up to nine past performance examples. DOJ could supplement this information with “data obtained from other sources, including, but not limited to, other DOJ and OJP contracts and information from Government repositories[.]” CSR (the protester) submitted six past performance examples, three of which concerned task orders involving similar services previously performed for the agency.
Booz Allen scored an exceptional rating while CSR earned only an acceptable rating. CSR filed a GAO bid protest, alleging that these ratings were caused by DOJ’s disparate treatment of the offerors.
CSR contended that DOJ only considered CPARs for CSR’s submitted past performance examples (finding the quality of CSR’s prior work to be mixed) but considered Booz Allen’s CPAR ratings for past performance projects that were not identified in its proposal (finding them to be of high quality). CSR alleged that had DOJ considered CPARs for its other projects (as it had for Booz Allen), its past performance score would have been higher.
GAO found the past performance evaluation to be unequal. In doing so, GAO noted that it will not normally object to an agency’s decision to limit its review of past performance information. But this discretion comes with a large caveat—as a fundamental matter of fairness, offerors must be evaluated on the same basis and the evaluation must be consistent with the solicitation’s terms. Explaining its decision, GAO wrote:
[T]he agency’s evaluation of CSR’s past performance was based on only the most recent CPARs for those specific projects identified by the vendor in its quotation. However, when evaluating BAH’s past performance, the agency considered CPARs for other than the specific projects that BAH had identified in its quotation. . . . Quite simply, to the extent that the agency’s past performance evaluation of BAH considered CPARs for other than the projects specifically referenced by the awardee in its quotation, the agency was required to do the same when evaluating CSR’s past performance. As the agency was required to treat vendors equally and evaluate past performance evenhandedly, and failed to do so here, the agency’s actions were disparate and unreasonable.
GAO sustained CSR’s protest.
Though agencies typically enjoy discretion in evaluating past performance, CSR confirms that this discretion isn’t unlimited. Agencies must evaluate offerors fairly. This means that, if an agency considers a broad range of CPARs from one offeror, it must consider a similar range of CPARs for other offerors, too.