Protest Against Proposal Exclusion

B-198840: Nov 10, 1980

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A firm protested the exclusion of its proposal from the competitive range of a procurement. The request for proposals was issued for research and development by the Bureau of Mines. The award factors to be considered included understanding of all of the elements of the statement of work; personnel, facility, and overall capabilities of the bidder; the proposed level of effort and management plan; and the bidder's past perfomance on Bureau of Mines contracts. The Bureau advised the protesting firm of the following deficiencies in its proposal: major technical errors, failure to grasp the scope of the work, and inadequate mining experience of the protester's personnel. The contract was awarded to the firm which was lowest in cost of the technically acceptable firms. The protester challenged the technical evaluation of its proposal, and alleged that: the Bureau did not give weight to the cost effectiveness of its proposal, a potential conflict of interest existed, and internal agency procedures were violated. GAO held that determinations of technical acceptability are the responsibility of the agency concerned and are questioned only upon a clear showing of unreasonableness. In this case, while each deficiency in itself may have been insufficient to warrant exclusion, the deficiencies taken as a whole were substantial enough to support the agency's determination of technical inadequacy. GAO found that the agency's determination that the protester failed to grasp the scope of the work was not arbitrary. Although the request for proposals did not require a specified level of work-hours from experienced mining engineers, the protester proposed drastically fewer mining engineer work-hours than did the four firms judged in the competitive range. The protester failed to establish that the Bureau acted in an unreasonable or arbitrary manner. GAO did not believe that price must be considered in all instances in determining which proposals are in a competitive range. The protester's allegation concerning a conflict of interest was not for GAO consideration, as it could have been raised at an earlier date, and thus was untimely. However, GAO will bring the matter to the attention of the agency with a recommendation that the allegation be investigated. The Bureau's procurement methods were not inconsistent with its contracting procedure. The protest was denied in part and dismissed in part.