When submitting bids, contractors should always double check their proposal submission methods, whether it be a designated portal, email, or any other method, and do so well before the deadline. GAO recently had the opportunity to examine proposal submission issues related to a US Navy procurement, and did not show sympathy for the contractor who experienced proposal submission issues right at the deadline.
GAO addressed late filing exceptions and issues with submission portals in the protest of Signet Technologies, Inc.
On February 11, 2019, the Navy issued a RFP for an IDIQ contract to provide ESS/EMS services at Navy shore installations world wide. This Solicitation required proposals to be submitted via the U.S. Navy-Marines SPAWAR E-CC (E-Commerce Central) portal. Any proposals submitted outside of that site would not be accepted. The Solicitation incorporated FAR 52.215-1, which includes specific proposal submission rules and exceptions.
Specifically, FAR 52.215-1 states that offerors are responsible for submitting proposals that reach the required office. Any proposal received at the designated Government office after the deadline is late and will not be considered.
FAR 52.215-1 also creates an exception for emergencies or unanticipated events. If an emergency or unanticipated event interrupts Government processes and causes proposals to not be received at the designated office by the deadline, then the deadline for receipt will be shifted to the first work day on which normal government processes resume and the time for the deadline will be the same time of day as was originally specified in the solicitation.
The deadline for proposals on this RFP was set as March 22, 2019, 2pm Eastern Time. SigNet logged into the SPAWAR E-CC portal to submit its proposal at 1:41 pm on March 22. SigNet had compiled its proposal in a compressed file format (zip file) and attempted to upload the proposal onto the portal at 1:51, 1:56, and 1:59 pm. Signet’s proposal did not successfully go through on any of those attempts.
SigNet then attempted to send its proposal via email three times to the contracting officer. Once again, none of the emails were successful. The Navy-Marines email system will not accept zip files from outside sources, so the proposal never successfully arrived in the CO’s email. After being told their proposal would not be considered, SigNet filed a protest with GAO.
SigNet argued that an error with the SPAWAR E-CC website prevented the submission of its proposal, and that constituted an “unanticipated event” under FAR 52.215-1. It is important to note that SigNet did not provide evidence of a website error in the protest. SigNet also argued that there was acceptable evidence to establish that its proposal was received at the required government office through email, which would be acceptable under FAR 52.215-1 as well.
The U.S. Navy responded that SigNet failed to prove a website error and the Navy never actually received the proposal via email.
GAO agreed with the Navy. GAO held that it is an offeror’s responsibility to deliver its proposal to the proper place at the proper time. If a proposal is never actually received, an agency is not required to consider it. SigNet did not prove that the website actually experienced issues, and the Navy never confirmed actual receipt of the proposal in its email system. Therefore, the exceptions in FAR 52.215-1 for unanticipated events would not apply.
GAO pointed out that in electronic submissions, the offeror must ensure the proposals are timely delivered by utilizing the electronic submission system sufficiently in advance of the proposal deadline. Additionally, if the website was down or experiencing issues, as SigNet alleged, then under the “unanticipated event or emergency” exception in FAR 52.215-1, the deadline for submissions would be shifted to the first business day the website works, and the proposal would be sent at that time. SigNet failed to do this, or show that the website truly had an error.
The SigNet case serves as a reminder to government contractors to plan ahead. SigNet cut their timing too close, logging in 20 minutes before the deadline, and attempting its first submission a mere 9 minutes before the deadline. Contractors should double check any submission portals prior to the date of submission, as well as on the date of submission. Additionally, it appears that the use of a zip file may have caused additional issues for SigNet. Contractors should make sure whatever file type they use is acceptable prior to the submission deadline. It always pays to double check everything and be ready well before the deadline to prevent any sort of sticky situation or website issue from preventing submission. If you do not, GAO is unlikely to be sympathetic.