Matter of: S&H Systems File: B-250561 Date: February 4, 1993

B-250561: Feb 4, 1993

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PROCUREMENT Competitive Negotiation Offers Competitive ranges Exclusion Administrative discretion Protest against agency decision to exclude proposal from competitive range for award under Small Business Innovation Research Program is denied where record shows that evaluation which resulted in the firm's proposal being ranked 20 out of the 26 proposals evaluated was reasonable. S&H contends that its technical proposal was not properly evaluated. The solicitation was issued under the Small Business Innovation Research Program. This program was established under the Small Business Innovation Development Act. A brief description of what the offeror was to provide under each of the headings. The proposals were rated in six areas: a well-defined.

Matter of: S&H Systems File: B-250561 Date: February 4, 1993

PROCUREMENT Competitive Negotiation Offers Competitive ranges Exclusion Administrative discretion Protest against agency decision to exclude proposal from competitive range for award under Small Business Innovation Research Program is denied where record shows that evaluation which resulted in the firm's proposal being ranked 20 out of the 26 proposals evaluated was reasonable.

Attorneys

DECISION S&H Systems protests the exclusion of its proposal by the Small Business Administration (SBA) from the competitive range under request for proposals (RFP) No. 92-21-JAG, which invited offers for research into the topic of "Technology Transfer--Phase 1." S&H contends that its technical proposal was not properly evaluated. We deny the protest.

The solicitation was issued under the Small Business Innovation Research Program. This program was established under the Small Business Innovation Development Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 638 (1988), which requires federal agencies to reserve a portion of their research efforts and authorizes them to award "funding agreements," in the form of contracts, grants, or cooperative agreements, to small businesses based upon evaluation of proposals submitted in response to solicitations issued pursuant to the Innovation Act.

The solicitation sought offers for the first phase of a two-phase research project or study on the topic of technology transfer. "Technology transfer," as used here, refers to the processes through which firms find and apply knowledge from sources outside the firm in order to adjust their products and production processes as they attempt to increase their competitiveness in the marketplace. The RFP identified the objectives of the research as (1) to pull together what has been learned about the effectiveness of various strategies, methods, techniques, and mechanisms of technology transfer in a comprehensive and coherent framework, and (2) to add to this knowledge in a meaningful and cost-effective way. The RFP described the work to be completed under the first phase of the project as surveying and analyzing the literature, identifying and analyzing the gaps in the literature, and preparing an annotated bibliography. The RFP provided a specific format for offerors to follow in preparing their proposals, including an outline of nine headings to be followed in the proposal narrative, and a brief description of what the offeror was to provide under each of the headings.

The RFP contained detailed factors for evaluation. Under technical merit, the proposals were rated in six areas: a well-defined, relevant hypothesis; thorough understanding of existing work in this and related areas of work; knowledge of relevant data resources; well-defined and reasonably documented research methodology; prospect of research being usable; and ability to write. Under principal investigators or organizational capability, five factors were listed including research experience and training of principal investigator and adequacy of management plan to execute research efficiently.

The SBA received 26 proposals, including one from S&H, by the closing date of July 27, 1992. The agency formed a technical review panel, consisting of three SBA officials and two specialists from outside the SBA, who evaluated the technical proposals. Each member of the panel reviewed the proposals and recorded a numerical point score for each one on an evaluation form that listed the evaluation factors as they had appeared in the RFP. Under this evaluation scheme, a proposal could receive a maximum of 75 points for technical merit and 25 points for principal investigator or organizational capability. The panel then met to discuss the proposals, and the individual evaluators' scores were averaged to produce a final score for each proposal. Only two of the proposals received scores of 70 points or above and were determined to be in the competitive range. S&H's proposal was not one of these two; it was evaluated as 20th among the 26. On September 8, the contracting officer advised S&H that its proposal was excluded from the competitive range and that it was considered deficient because it "exhibited no framework for identifying and classifying the strategies and mechanisms for technology transfer" and "did not pay close attention to the statement of work in the RFP." This protest followed.

S&H argues that the firm has extensive experience and understanding in this field, and that the reasons the agency cited for rejecting the protester's proposal were "absurd." S&H speculates that its proposal must not have been read at all, or must have been reviewed by "someone unfamiliar with the necessities and areas of this subject." The protester also comments that the "statement of work was written very broadly to begin with and was obviously written by someone not knowledgeable in technology transfer." The protester takes exception to the two reasons given by the agency for the rejection of its proposal, asserting that it did provide the mechanisms and strategies for technology transfer in its proposal and that it structured the proposal to follow the statement of work exactly.

The agency argues that it conducted its evaluation in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and documented the evaluation and selection results. It believes the record supports the decision to exclude the S&H proposal from the competitive range. In reviewing protests against an agency's allegedly improper technical evaluation and decision to eliminate a proposal from further consideration for award, we examine the record to determine whether the agency's judgment was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable statutes and regulations. See Allied Management of Texas, Inc., B-249086, Oct. 19, 1992, 92-2 CPD Para. 251. We conclude that the agency's decision to exclude the protester's proposal from the competitive range was reasonable and in accordance with the stated evaluation criteria.

The agency report reveals that only one of the five evaluation panelists gave S&H's proposal a high score. The scores that were assigned by the remaining four evaluators are significantly low in each of the 11 separate evaluation categories. The consensus view of the panel was that S&H's proposal failed to satisfy the work statement. The narrative comments of the individual evaluators support this conclusion. Two evaluators stated that S&H's proposal did not emphasize the literature on the subject when the RFP objectives stated that the surveying and analyzing of the literature was a critical part of the project. Two evaluators noted that the Freedom of Information Act which S&H identified as a mechanism for technology transfer was an involuntary method and questioned the emphasis on it as a transfer mechanism. Several evaluators concluded that the goal of S&H's proposal to produce a document that would foster the highest level of awareness among small business of the opportunities that exist through technology transfer was "misdirected" or "unrealistic," given that the RFP phase I objective was only to identify the available literature on technology transfer methods and the gaps in the literature, not to produce a document for immediate use by small businesses. The evaluators also commented that S&H did not show the depth of understanding of the technical transfer process and that the research plan was weak. The evaluation panel determined that S&H's proposal had no reasonable chance for award based on its low consensus rating and ranking (20 out of 26 proposals).

While the protester generally objects to the evaluators' conclusions regarding its proposal and asserts that it should have received a higher score, it has not identified any flaw in the evaluation of its proposal. We have reviewed the evaluation results and conclude that they are reasonable. For example, S&H's objective to heighten awareness among small businesses of the opportunities for technology transfer is not consistent with the stated purpose of the research. Further, review and analysis of current literature constitutes a critical part of the project, and S&H's proposal failed to adequately address this requirement. Under these circumstances, we think the agency's exclusion of S&H's proposal from the competitive range was reasonable.

The protest is denied.