Protest of Contract Award

B-200770: Sep 23, 1981

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A firm protested the award of a Veterans Administration (VA) contract for emergency and nonemergency ambulance services. The protestor's bid was low for one item; however, the contracting officer rejected the firm's bid as nonresponsive because it did not submit evidence of a local license as the invitation for bids (IFB) requested. The protestor, a small business firm, contended that its bid was improperly rejected as nonresponsive because the license requirement is a matter of responsibility and such determinations must be referred to the Small Business Administration for final determination under the Certificate of Competency program. VA decided that, regardless of how the license issue was resolved, the protester would still be ineligible for the award of the second item because the IFB did not authorize separate or multiple awards for each line item. Thus, the agency reasoned that the award should be made for all items to the one bidder that offered the lowest aggregate price, in this case the awardee. GAO reviewed the information in the IFB and concluded that the agency was incorrect in assuming that it was precluded from making multiple awards under the terms of the solicitation. GAO further noted that an aggregate award, even if provided for in the solicitation, may be viewed as contrary to the statutory requirement to maximize competition unless there is adequate justification to show that such an award would result in a lower overall cost to the Government. The protest was sustained, but since the contract term had nearly expired no corrective action was taken. However, GAO did recommend that the Administrator of Veterans Affairs take appropriate action to prevent similar deficiencies in future procurements.