Offeror’s Email Proposal “Bounces Back,” Agency Not To Blame

A procuring agency was not at fault when an offeror’s emailed proposal “bounced back” because of the large size of the email.

In a recent decision, the GAO applied the general rule that it is “an offeror’s responsibility to deliver its proposal to the proper place at the proper time” and held that the agency was not to blame when its email server rejected the large email containing the offeror’s proposal.

In Federal Acquisition Services Team, LLC, B-410466 (Dec. 31, 2014), the U.S. Special Operations Command issued a request for proposals for acquisition, procurement, and financial management support systems. The RFP was posted on FedBizOpps on July 30, 2014.  On September 4, the agency issued an amendment requiring all proposal submissions be emailed to a designated email address, but limited the maximum size of any files in any one email to 20 megabytes.  The amendment also changed the proposal due date to September 15, 2014.

Federal Acquisition Services Team, LLC transmitted its proposal via email to the designated email address around noon on September 15, 2014.  However, the proposal never reached the designated agency email address.  Instead, the email was rejected by the agency’s server because of its large size.

FAST received a “bounce back” reply email a few minutes after transmission, advising that its message was “undeliverable” due to “size limit exceeded.”  Strangely, however, FAST did not attempt to resubmit its proposal after receiving the bounce back email.  Instead, on September 15 and 16, FAST contacted the agency by telephone and email in an attempt to verify receipt of the proposal.  Then, after the deadline had passed, FAST attempted to submit its proposal to an alternate agency email address.  This email, too, was rejected for size reasons.

Because the agency did not receive FAST’s proposal by the due date, FAST was not considered for award.  After learning that its proposal had not been considered for award, FAST filed a GAO bid protest.

The GAO held that the agency had acted properly by refusing to consider FAST’s proposal.  The GAO repeated the longstanding rule that “[i]t is an offeror’s responsibility to deliver its proposal to the proper place at the proper time.”  Additionally, the GAO noted that it has previously held that an agency is not required to consider a proposal where there is no evidence that the proposal was “actually received.”

There is an exception to these rules when an agency’s “systemic failure” prevents a proposal from reaching the agency on time.  In this case, however, the GAO held that there was no systemic failure.  The GAO wrote that FAST could have successfully submitted its proposal simply by breaking it up into several smaller emails.

In fact, other offerors also received bounce back messages when they first attempted to submit their proposals, but their proposals were successfully submitted by means of smaller emails.  “All offerors that diligently pursued submission of their proposals were eventually successful,” the GAO wrote.  The GAO denied FAST’s protest.

The GAO decision in Federal Acquisition Services Team, LLC, is a cautionary tale for prospective offerors.  As the case demonstrates, offerors must diligently ensure that a proposal is received by the agency.  As it becomes more and more common for proposals to be submitted by email, offerors must understand the technology involved and take prompt action if it appears that an email submission might not have been received.

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