For companies trying to break into the government market for the first time, past performance can seem a bit like the old chicken-and-egg conundrum. Sometimes it can appear like a company can’t win a government contract without a strong record of past performance–but can’t build a past performance record without contracts! And with the government’s continued movement away from lowest-price, technically acceptable evaluations, past performance seems increasingly important.
But that doesn’t mean the government always has to consider past performance as an evaluation factor. Instead, as a recent GAO bid protest decision confirms, procuring agencies have broad discretion to omit past performance in appropriate cases.
When it comes to “best value” evaluations, agencies ordinarily have broad discretion to accept higher-rated, higher-priced proposals.
How broad is that discretion? Well, in one recent case, the GAO held that an agency reasonably accepted the awardee’s higher-rated proposal, despite a whopping 91% price premium.
In the competitive federal marketplace, businesses are always looking for ways to make their proposals more competitive. With millions of dollars at stake, it is no surprise that some competitors develop clever approaches to give their proposal a competitive edge.
As one competitor recently discovered, however, there is a point where an offer can get too clever, which may result in proposal elimination. Especially when an agency views the clever approach as violating a solicitation staffing requirement.
It is well understood that offerors must submit proposals that meet the procuring agency’s requirements, including any page limitations set by the solicitation. But what if an offeror’s proposal contains an obvious layout and printing error that inadvertently puts required information outside the established page limits? Does the agency have a duty to seek clarifications or allow corrections?
GAO says no.
Preparing a proposal for a federal procurement is an involved process. On top of the extensive drafting and estimating work, proposals often require supporting documentation like licenses or certifications. But what happens when a proposal and its supporting documentation contradict one another?
As one contractor learned the hard way, this contradiction can have disastrous consequences.
Agencies often find unanticipated, innovative content in offerors’ proposals. And unsurprisingly, those proposals are often the ones selected for award. But a recent GAO decision reminds us that all strengths an agency assigns must be supported by the stated evaluation criteria.
In other words, the solicitation must thoroughly inform offerors of these evaluation criteria, and the agency must equally evaluate offerors under them. An offeror’s proposal should not get extra credit for proposing things that are not anticipated by or logically encompassed in the solicitation.
Strong working relationships between contractors and contracting officers are a significant asset. For example, the Customs and Border Patrol recently relied heavily on its experience working with the incumbent contractor to “infer” proposed technical approaches and award corresponding strengths. Unfortunately, when this award was subsequently protested, GAO did not agree with the Border Patrol’s inferential technique.
As GAO explained, a reviewing agency may not credit a bid with technical strengths that are not present within the proposal.