B-400323.3, Smart Innovative Solutions, November 19, 2008
DOCUMENT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE
The decision issued on the date below was subject to a GAO Protective Order. This redacted version has been approved for public release.
Protester’s contention that its proposal was improperly excluded from the competitive range is denied where the protester has not shown that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable or inconsistent with the stated evaluation criteria.
Innovative Solutions (SIS) of
This protest involves a procurement where the agency received and evaluated 21 proposals before concluding that 7 of them would be included in the competitive range. The protester--1 of the 14 offerors whose proposals were not included in the competitive range--argues that the agency’s evaluation of its proposal, and the agency’s subsequent decision to exclude the proposal from further consideration, was unreasonable. For the reasons set forth in detail below, we disagree.
The RFP here was issued on
The RFP anticipated award to the
offeror whose proposal presented the best value after evaluation in accordance
with the stated factors. RFP at
M-6. The evaluation factors were: (1) technical
proposal, (2) staffing resources proposal, (3) past performance and relevant
experience, and (4) cost/price proposal.
Twenty-one firms, including the
protester, submitted proposals by the due date of
The CO used the evaluation report in conjunction with the cost proposals to determine the competitive range, which consisted of the top seven ranked proposals. CO Statement at 4; AR, Tab 9. The proposal submitted by SIS was ranked eleventh. AR, Tab 9.
With respect to the protester’s
proposal, the agency identified several weaknesses. Of relevance here, the agency found that SIS’s
quality assurance plan lacked sufficient detail to determine whether
performance outcomes would be met or whether the plan was tailored to the Job
Corps target population. AR, Tab 7, at
6. The agency also found that, with
regard to coordination with other Job Corps offices, SIS failed to provide a
discussion of communication goals, and failed to provide enough information for
the agency to determine the usefulness of SIS’s proposed e-newsletter.
By letter dated May 16, the agency notified the protester of the exclusion of its proposal from the competitive range. CO Statement at 2. The protester requested a debriefing, and the agency provided one on July 6. This protest followed.
SIS raises several challenges to the agency’s evaluation of its proposal. First, it argues that the agency’s technical evaluation was flawed because the TEP failed to produce a consensus report and because weaknesses noted in the evaluation report appeared to conflict with statements on the scoring sheets of an individual TEP member. SIS also argues that the agency improperly imposed an evaluation criterion that was not set forth in the solicitation. Further, SIS maintains that the agency’s evaluation of its staffing proposal was flawed; specifically, SIS claims that it should not have been downgraded for proposing a site manager without a bachelor’s degree, because the RFP did not require that the site manager have a degree. Finally, the protester argues that the agency incorrectly downgraded its proposal under the past performance and relevant experience evaluation factor because, although SIS has operated a call center, it has no experience with outbound calling services.
With respect to the evaluation of its technical proposal, SIS maintains that because the TEP did not produce a consensus report, the agency’s evaluation is flawed. SIS also argues that the unreasonableness of the agency’s evaluation is evidenced by the fact that the evaluation report appears to contradict certain statements in one TEP member’s scoring sheets.
The determination of whether a
proposal is in the competitive range is principally a matter within the
reasonable exercise of discretion of the procuring agency. Foster-Miller, Inc., B-296194.4,
As an initial
matter, we are aware of no statute or regulation that requires an agency to
create a consensus report in evaluating proposals, nor is there any requirement
that every individual evaluator’s scoring sheet track the final evaluation
report. See Andrulis Corp.,
More importantly, we have reviewed the record here, and, in our view, there is support for the weaknesses the agency noted in the protester’s technical proposal. For example, offerors were asked to address how they would coordinate with Job Corps regional offices, outreach admissions, career transition services centers, the Job Corps data center, and the Job Corps media contractor. Offerors were also asked to address the challenges they could anticipate and identify strategies to address those challenges. In its evaluation, the agency noted as a weakness the fact that the proposal identified the project manager as the main point of contact for coordination, but failed to describe communication goals. AR, Tab 7, at 6. The agency also found that, while SIS proposed to use an e-newsletter to provide information about the call center, SIS did not provide enough information about the newsletter for the evaluators to assess its usefulness.
As indicated above, we see no
basis in the record to disagree with these assessments. The SIS proposal provided little information
on how its e-newsletter would be used to help keep stakeholders informed. Further, the proposal stated that the Project
Manager (PM) would be responsible for coordinating with stakeholders, but contained
little explanation of how the PM would do so, other than to state that she
would work to establish a schedule for meetings and reviews. AR, Tab 3, SIS Technical Proposal, at 15. Moreover, the proposal’s response to
explaining what challenges it anticipated in coordinating with other Job Corps
entities was particularly unenlightening.
The proposal simply stated that “one of the biggest challenges to
coordinating with so many groups is the coordination of so many groups.”
To the extent that SIS also complains that the agency has imposed an unannounced evaluation criterion because two of its evaluated weaknesses involve its failure to address communication strategies, even though the RFP did not list communication as an evaluation factor, we disagree.
A solicitation must inform offerors
of the basis for proposal evaluation, and the evaluation must be based on the
factors and significant subfactors set forth in the solicitation. Federal Acquisition Regulation
(FAR) sect. 15.304(d); Akal Sec., Inc., B‑271385,
Here, we agree with the agency that how an offeror would communicate with the various organizations within the Job Corps was reasonably encompassed by the stated requirement of coordination with other Job Corps offices, since it is unclear from the record how there could be coordination with other Job Corps offices without some communication.
SIS also protests DOL’s evaluation of its staffing proposal. In this regard, the RFP required that the proposed site manager have “a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of three years related experience in communications systems and business administration or five years related experience.” The protester argues that this provision means that the site manager must have either: (1) a bachelor’s degree and a minimum of 3 years related experience in communications systems and business administration, or (2) 5 years related experience. Because SIS proposed to provide a site manager with 15 years of related professional experience, SIS contends that it satisfied the requirement, and that the agency improperly downgraded its staffing proposal because the site manager did not have a bachelor’s degree.
The agency, however, reads the requirements of the RFP differently. Under the agency’s reading of the specification, the site manager was required to have a bachelor’s degree plus a minimum number of years of experience--either 3 years of experience in communications systems and business administration, or 5 years of related experience. Because SIS proposed a site manager who did not have a bachelor’s degree, the agency argues that it was proper to downgrade the protester’s staffing proposal.
While we think the agency’s
interpretation of this request is more persuasive than the protester’s, to the
extent that SIS disagrees with the agency’s interpretation of the educational
requirements required by the solicitation, we view the solicitation
as patently ambiguous. See Pitney
Bowes, Inc., B-294868; B-294868.2,
Past Performance and Relevant Experience
With respect to the evaluation of the past performance and relevant experience factor, SIS maintains that it was improper for the agency to downgrade its proposal in this area because its past performance included only inbound calling centers, rather than centers that also provided outbound follow-up calls. The protester argues that the RFP does not indicate that the agency would distinguish between the two types of calling centers, and therefore it was improper for the agency to differentiate between the two. Protester’s Comments at 7.
An agency is required to consider
the similarity or relevance
of an offeror's past performance
information as part of its evaluation of past performance. See FAR sect. 15.305(a)(2) (the relevance of past performance information shall be considered); DRS C3
Syst., LLC, B-310825, B-310825.2,
The Statement of Work (SOW) contained in the RFP here explained that the contractor for the Job Corps call center would be required to provide more than just “intake” services. CO Statement at 5. The SOW specified that, in addition to responding to inbound telephone inquiries, certain outbound calling services would be required. These include performing outbound callbacks to: follow up with callers whose inquiries were not answered during the initial call; verify problem resolution; discuss with Job Corps partners issues that could not be resolved during initial contact with the customer; perform customer surveys and measure customer satisfaction; and return calls from customers using TDD/TTY [Telecommunications Device for the Deaf/Teletypewriter] devices. AR, Tab 2, at C-8.
Because SIS’s prior experience involved only the first type of calling center, the agency concluded that SIS’s past performance references were less relevant than references for other offerors with the broader experience operating call centers that perform both inbound and outbound calling services. While we recognize that the agency’s evaluation in this regard was somewhat harsh, since there is no evidence that this approach was applied inconsistently, and the evaluation reflects a reasonable business judgment by DOL, we think the agency’s evaluation was unobjectionable.
The protest is denied.
Gary L. Kepplinger