Removing a Price Realism Evaluation is a Material Change, Says GAO

Price realism—the evaluation of whether a proposed price is too low—is a method the government may use to evaluate fixed price offers to ensure that offerors are proposing pricing that reflects an understanding of the work required by the solicitation.

Prices that are unrealistically low can result in proposal elimination. This means price realism is an important consideration when preparing a bid. But what if an agency decides after proposal submission that a price realism evaluation will not be performed? In a recent decision, GAO confirmed that offerors must be given the opportunity to revise their proposals.

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Protester Argues the Agency Played “The Price Is Right” During Discussions

Negotiating with the federal government regarding pricing can sometimes feel like trying to win an RV from Bob Barker. Such was the experience of one protester. The government recommended a price increase during discussions and the contractor raised its price. The price increase, however, ultimately cost the offeror the award.

The agency’s conduct was subsequently protested before GAO, but GAO was not receptive.

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GAO: Agencies Must Explain Cost Realism Evaluation Determinations

GAO recently held in ATA Aerospace, LLC, B-417427 (July 2, 2019) that agencies are required to explain how offerors’ proposed labor hours and prices are, or are not, in line with historical data from predecessor contracts when conducting cost realism evaluations.

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GAO: Agency Conducted Price Realism Analysis and Misled Protester

Unless a solicitation for a fixed-price contract provides that the agency can conduct a price realism analysis, it can’t. Even so, agencies sometimes perform this analysis without alerting prospective offerors of the possibility.

If they do, however, the ground is fertile for a protest.

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A Pre-Award Protest Probably Isn’t the Place to Raise Suspicions of Wage Violations

Let’s suppose you’re a contractor that provides services to the federal government. Typically, your contract will require you to pay your employees the prevailing wage rates promulgated under the Service Contract Act.

What if you suspect that, under previous contracts, your competitors failed to pay their employees the mandated prevailing rates? Can you use a pre-award bid protest to obligate a procuring agency to police possible ongoing non-compliance through solicitation provisions? If you say yes, perhaps you should keep reading.

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Price Realism: Agency Didn’t Compare Proposed Rates To Incumbent Rates

An incumbent contractor won a protest at GAO recently where it argued that the awardee’s labor rates were too low, because they were lower than the rates the incumbent itself was paying the same people.

GAO faulted the agency for concluding that the awardee’s price was realistic without checking the proposed rates against the incumbent rates. In other words, GAO told the agency to start at the obvious place—the compensation of the current employees.

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Hiring Incumbent Employees At Low Labor Rates–What Could Go Wrong?

A company bidding to replace an incumbent service contractor cannot presume incumbent workers will take major pay cuts without setting itself up for a potentially successful protest.

FAR 22.12 generally requires successor service contractors to give a right of first refusal to qualified employees under the previous contract. And even when these nondisplacement rules don’t apply, many offerors’ proposals tout their efforts to retain incumbent employees. But asking incumbent employees to take significant pay cuts–and expecting them to accept–is unreasonable and can torpedo a proposal. Case in point: GAO sustained a protest recently against an awardee who had proposed high retention rate of incumbent workers, but lower pay for those positions.

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