When Agencies Don’t Return Past Performance Questionnaires: A Cautionary Tale

Past performance evaluations often hinge on government officials completing and returning past performance questionnaires.  But what happens when the government doesn’t return those PPQs?

In one case, at least, the answer was “nothing good.”  In a recent GAO bid protest decision, only two of six PPQs were returned for the lowest-priced offeror–and that offeror ended up losing the contract to a firm with a higher past performance score.

The GAO’s decision in Veterans Elite, Inc., B-409233 (Feb. 10, 2014) involved an Air Force solicitation for mechanical work.  The solicitation established an evaluation based only on past performance and price.  The solicitation called for past performance to be evaluated using PPQs and independently obtained data.

Veterans Elite, Inc. submitted a proposal.  VEI identified six past performance projects in its proposal.  However, the Air Force only received two completed PPQs, reflecting largely satisfactory ratings.  The Air Force did not find any assessments of the other four projects in the PPIRS system.

Based on the two PPQs received, the Air Force assigned VEI a “satisfactory confidence” past performance rating.  Although VEI was the lowest-priced offeror, the Air Force awarded the contract to a competitor, which received a “substantial confidence” past performance rating.

VEI filed a GAO bid protest.  VEI argued, in part, that the Air Force had improperly downgraded VEI’s past performance score because government officials did not return the PPQs.

The GAO disagreed.  It wrote, “the record does not demonstrate that the agency downgraded the protester’s past performance rating because its references failed to return PPQs.”  Rather, “VEI received a satisfactory confidence rating because the only independent qualitative ratings of the protester’s past performance were reflected in the two PPQs received, both of which assigned the protester satisfactory ratings.”  The GAO denied the protest.

The Veterans Elite decision demonstrates that, at least under the terms of this solicitation, the government’s failure to return PPQs meant that the projects in question weren’t considered–and may well have cost VEI the contract.  From the decision, it is unclear what steps, if any, VEI could have taken to improve its odds that the government officials in question would complete and return the PPQs.  Perhaps there was nothing that could be done.  But perhaps some follow up would have helped another PPQ or two find its way to the Air Force–and changed the award decision.

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