Proposal Submission: Check Agency Security Requirements

During my first summer in Washington, D.C. many years ago, I spent a hot, sticky Fourth of July on the National Mall, eating picnic food and watching the fireworks.  I’m sure a few security personnel were around, but I took no notice of them.  Flash forward to another Fourth on the Mall—this one post-9/11.  On that Fourth, everyone entering the Mall had to pass through security before celebrating America’s birth.  I remember mixed emotions—I was glad that the government was focusing on public safety, but frustrated about standing in a long security line just to reach the Mall.

Security is a reality of life these days, especially when dealing with the government.  That’s why if you plan to hand-deliver a proposal to a procuring agency, be sure to check the agency’s security requirements well in advance of your planned delivery time, or the proposal could be rejected as late.  One contractor learned this lesson the hard way, as described in the GAO’s bid protest decision in B&S Transport, Inc., B-404648.3 (Apr. 8, 2011).

The B&S Transport GAO protest involved a Defense Logistics Agency solicitation for various types of tires.  The solicitation required proposals to be delivered to the lobby of one of the agency’s installations by 1:00 p.m. on January 10.  The solicitation included instructions for gaining access to the lobby, and warned prospective offerors that background checks and vehicle registrations were required.  In a written question-and-answer distributed to offerors, the DLA stated that if an offeror intended to use a courier to deliver the proposal, it must advise the agency at least one day in advance so that the courier’s information could be entered in the security system.

On the proposal due date, one offeror attempted to deliver its proposal by courier.  The courier arrived at the facility less than 10 minutes before the 1:00 deadline.  When the courier arrived, the agency discovered that the offeror had not called in advance with the courier’s information.  After some telephone calls and other delays, the agency entered the courier’s information and allowed the courier to proceed.  However, he reached the lobby after the deadline, and the DLA rejected the proposal as late.

The offeror filed a bid protest with the GAO, arguing that the DLA should have accepted the proposal because its security requirements (and an apparent instruction guiding the courier to the wrong building) caused the delay.  The GAO denied the protest.  It found that “despite the instructions and warnings” in the solicitation, the offeror failed to advise the agency in advance that it intended to use the courier, which was the paramount cause of the delays once the courier arrived.

In addition, the GAO noted that the offeror had simply cut it too close—the courier arrived less than ten minutes before the 1:00 deadline.  The GAO pointed to previous decisions in which it has held that “a protester contributes significantly to a delay where it fails to provide sufficient time for delivery at a secure government facility.”

Would the result have been different if the solicitation had not been so clear about the facility’s security requirements?  Possibly, but not necessarily.  The GAO might well have held that contractors should reasonably expect some security procedures at federal facilities (particularly DoD facilities) and that showing up with less than 10 minutes to spare would not have been reasonable even without specific security warnings.

The lesson of B&S Transport is that contractors should be aware of potential security delays when hand-delivering proposals, and should check well in advance of delivery to ensure those delays don’t cause the proposal to be late.  Of course, cutting it as close as the offeror in B&S Transport did is never a good idea.  Why not deliver the proposal several hours before the deadline, or even a day or two?  Usually, there is nothing to be lost by submitting early, and an early submission will eliminate the worry that a delayed delivery might result in rejection of the proposal.

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