Documentation of agency decision can be a critical issue in bid protests

Posted on June 5, 2019

When evaluating offerors for a federal contract, agencies are required to document their evaluation decisions and judgments in sufficient detail. This is an often overlooked requirement that can be the deciding factor in a successful bid protest.

A recent GAO decision reiterated this point. In Soft Tech Consulting, Inc., B-416934 (Comp. Gen. Feb. 1, 2019), GAO held that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) evaluation documentation was inadequate to support the reasonableness of its disparate treatment of quotations in a procurement for software development services. As a result, GAO recommended DHA to reevaluate all quotations and make a new source selection decision.

RFQ No. 70SBUR19Q0000029 was issued to “small business vendors holding a GSA Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contract under Schedule 70, special item number 132-51 (Information Technology Professional Services).” The RFQ contemplated the award of a task order for development, security, and operations services to support the agency’s information technology systems.
Offerors were required to propose teams of professionals from their FSS contracts to perform the work. The award was to be made on a best-value tradeoff basis, using a two-step evaluation process and considering the following factors: relevant experience, staffing approach, technical demonstration, and price.

The issue in this protest was under the “staffing approach” factor. Under this factor, offerors were required to complete a Template of the proposed personnel’s qualifications for the agency to evaluate whether the proposed personnel were appropriate for the work. The solicitation stated that the evaluation of the vendors’ staffing “would include an evaluation of the proposed labor categories, in order to ensure the quoted staffing mix provided the knowledge, experience, and level of support required for the task order.” The RFQ required all personnel to “be mid-level to senior-level labor categories.” However, the RFQ did not state how many years of experience constituted mid-level or senior-level.

An offeror, Soft Tech Consulting, submitted its Template with the title “Technical Staff-III EL” in the GSA labor category and the abbreviation “Mid” for the experience level for one position. For another position, Soft Tech provided the title “Technical Staff-IV EL” for the GSA labor category and the word “Senior” for the experience level. DHS evaluators concluded that “EL” meant “entry level” and therefore, Soft Tech’s proposal was deficient and did not meet the solicitation requirements. Soft Tech was excluded from competition and the contract was awarded to another offeror. Soft Tech protested, arguing the following: DHS unreasonably evaluated its quotation as unsatisfactory under the staffing approach factor; disparately evaluated quotations; and did not adequately document the bases for its evaluation of quotations. GAO sustained STC’s protest “because the agency’s evaluation documentation [was] inadequate to support the reasonableness of its disparate treatment of quotations.”

First, GAO explained that for procurements conducted under FAR subpart 8.4, “an agency’s evaluation judgments must be documented in sufficient detail to show that they are reasonable.” GAO stated that the record “[d]oes not explain why, when reviewing Soft Tech’s quote of personnel labeled as ‘Technical Staff-III EL,’ and ‘Technical Staff-IV EL,’ the agency did not recognize that Soft Tech was proposing mid- to senior- level personnel, or senior-level personnel” and “rather, the limited record suggests only that the agency evaluators did not look beyond the ‘EL’ notation on the template to recognize that each of the labor category tiers identified varying levels of experience.” GAO also noted that the record failed to address “whether the agency considered two to four years, or three to five years of experience sufficient to constitute mid-level to senior-level.”

The successful offeror, Dev Tech, did not specify the experience level associated with each of its proposed personnel. Yet, the agency concluded that Dev Tech’s proposed personnel satisfied the mid- to senior-level requirement, despite having the same, or fewer years of required experience. GAO determined that neither Soft Tech or Dev Tech’s quotations was clear as to the experience level of the personnel it was proposing, but the agency decided to only downgrade Soft Tech – without any explanation. This lack of explanation, GAO held, was not appropriately supported and recommended a full reevaluation of all offers submitted.