Past Performance Isn’t Always a Required Evaluation Factor, Says GAO

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.

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Solicitation Ambiguities: Speak Now, or Forever Hold Your Peace

When a federal solicitation is vague, ambiguous or internally contradictory, it is common for offerors to hold their tongues. Instead of challenging the solicitation’s defects before proposals are due, many offerors decide to submit proposals and “see how it plays out.” Later, if the award goes to a competitor, these offerors may try to protest the solicitation’s defects.

It’s unsurprising that offerors can be reticent to rock the boat before an award is made. But a recent GAO bid protest decision demonstrates, complaining about the ground rules after award rarely works.

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Timing Issues: Challenges to Brand Name Salient Characteristics Due Before Proposal Submission, Says GAO

Time. It’s a great Pink Floyd song. It’s also something that frequently trips up contractors filing protests before GAO. As one contractor recently discovered, a challenge to the salient characteristics of a brand name product is equivalent to challenging the terms of a solicitation, which carries a different protest deadline than evaluation challenges.

Unfortunately for the protester, its argument did not fair nearly as well as one of David Gilmour’s solos.

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GAO Denies Challenge to Solicitation Terms: Use of “Tactical” Was Imprecise, but Allowable

In the world of federal contracting, precision matters. In fact, precision is often essential when developing a winning proposal. When it comes to subjective evaluation considerations, however, it can be challenging to articulate relevant evaluation criteria with a high level of precision. Indeed, as one prospective offeror recently discovered, some evaluation terms are good enough for government work, despite being imprecise.

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Despite Your Interest in a Protest, GAO Might Not Think You’re an “Interested Party”

Let’s suppose that you just received a new solicitation hot off the press. As you peruse it, you find a requirement that you believe is too onerous or unnecessary. So you contemplate filing a GAO protest to challenge that term.

Before doing so, be sure that you’re an “interested party” under GAO’s regulations. Well, I filed a protest, you say, doesn’t that make me an interested party? Short answer: no.

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Special Operations or Paint Ball? Protester Argues Solicitation is Ambiguous

Solicitations are intended to provide contractors with sufficient information about an agency’s needs to compete intelligently for government awards. In a recent procurement for special operations forces training facilities, one bidder alleged the solicitation provided so little detail that the solicited site “might just as well be a thrown-together paintball site for teenage birthday parties.”

Clearly in no mood to party, GAO denied the protest, taking the agency at its word that its requirements were minimal.

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