Small government contractors often rely on teammates and subcontractors to demonstrate relevant experience. But as one recently-published GAO bid protest decision shows, some procuring agencies may take a dim view of such reliance.
In Quasars, Inc., B-405747 (Dec. 7, 2011), the agency found that a woman-owned small business’s reliance on a teammate for relevant experience was risky, because that teammate might leave, depriving the team of the necessary expertise. The GAO found nothing unreasonable in the agency’s evaluation.
The GAO’s decision in the Quasars bid protest involved a Department of Homeland Security solicitation for scientific, engineering and technical assistance in support of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. The solicitation called for DHS to evaluate a number of factors, including demonstrated technical capability, which included an evaluation of offerors’ “knowledge, understanding and technical ability” to meet the solicitation requirements.
Quasars, Inc. submitted a proposal. Quasars’ proposal indicated that it had entered into a Contractor Team Arrangement with two other companies. Quasars identified itself as the team leader and the two other companies as team members. (Quasars’ proposal referred to its teammates both as “additional primes” and as “subcontractors,” making it somewhat unclear exactly how the CTA was structured).
DHS assigned Quasars an unacceptable rating on the technical ability factor for several reasons, including a concern over Quasars’ experience. The agency determined that Quasars was relying almost entirely on one of its two teammates for experience, which “posed a risk that the loss of this team member would ‘drain’ the entire expertise in this critical area.”
Quasars filed a GAO bid protest challenging DHS’s evaluation. The GAO held that the agency “reasonably found” Quasars’ reliance on its teammates experience to be “a risk to performance” since the loss of the teammate would leave Quasars without relevant experience. The GAO denied the bid protest.
The Quasars case demonstrates the difficulties that can arise when a small contractor relies upon a teammate for relevant experience. Although procuring agencies often allow small contractors to lean on their teammates for experience, they do not always do so–and when that happens, the evaluation process can be tough sledding for a small company.
One final note: Although the Quasars GAO bid protest decision was issued in December 2011, it was only recently released publicly. Nothing in the decision indicated why public release took so long to occur.