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.
In a best value acquisition, the final decision is typically made by a Source Selection Authority. But what happens when the SSA disagrees with the ratings assigned by the evaluators, such as a Source Selection Evaluation Board?
The SSA has a good deal of discretion, but that discretion isn’t unlimited. In a recent decision, GAO sustained a protest where the SSA’s disagreements with the SSEB didn’t appear to be reasonable.
In its evaluation of proposals, a procuring agency gave a challenger a strength for proposing to recruit incumbent employees, but didn’t give the incumbent contractor a strength–even though the incumbent contractor proposed to retain the very same people.
Unsurprisingly, the GAO found that the evaluation was unequal, and sustained the incumbent’s protest.