Matter of: EnviroSearch International File: B-252550 Date: July 6, 1993

B-252550: Jul 6, 1993

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PROCUREMENT Competitive Negotiation Offers Evaluation Technical acceptability Protester's proposal was properly rejected as technically unacceptable and outside the competitive range where agency reasonably found that the proposal lacked the level of detailed information required by the RFP to demonstrate the protester's abilities and understanding of the requirements and would require major revisions to become technically acceptable. Which was issued by Hill Air Force Base in Utah. EnviroSearch contends that its proposal was improperly evaluated. The areas requiring remediation are located on Hill Air Force Base or on adjoining properties and include such sites as landfills. Offerors were required to prepare two types of technical submissions: a technical proposal describing how the offeror would meet the requirements of the overall statement of work.

Matter of: EnviroSearch International File: B-252550 Date: July 6, 1993

PROCUREMENT Competitive Negotiation Offers Evaluation Technical acceptability Protester's proposal was properly rejected as technically unacceptable and outside the competitive range where agency reasonably found that the proposal lacked the level of detailed information required by the RFP to demonstrate the protester's abilities and understanding of the requirements and would require major revisions to become technically acceptable.

Attorneys

DECISION

EnviroSearch International protests the Air Force's exclusion of its proposal from the competitive range under request for proposals (RFP) No. F42650-90-R-0370, which was issued by Hill Air Force Base in Utah. EnviroSearch contends that its proposal was improperly evaluated, resulting in its improper rejection. We deny the protest.

The RFP contemplates the award of as many as six indefinite quantity delivery order contracts for conducting "remedial action projects" under the Air Force's Installation Restoration Program, which involves cleaning up hazardous waste contamination that has resulted from decades of military activity. The areas requiring remediation are located on Hill Air Force Base or on adjoining properties and include such sites as landfills, chemical disposal sites, spill sites, and fire training areas.

The RFP instructed offerors to submit separate technical and price proposals, and advised that while price would be a consideration, the award would be based on factors other than price. Offerors were required to prepare two types of technical submissions: a technical proposal describing how the offeror would meet the requirements of the overall statement of work, and separate proposals on three sample delivery orders. General areas of evaluation were listed in the RFP in descending order as technical, management, and cost, and offerors were advised that technical and management areas would be given a color rating (to reflect how well the offeror's proposal met the evaluation standards) and a proposal risk rating (reflecting the risks associated with the offeror's proposed effort). In addition, the agency would assess performance risk based on the offeror's present and past performance, using data provided by the offeror and data obtained from government sources.

The RFP included detailed instructions for preparing proposals, listing the following four items or evaluation subfactors to be addressed in the technical area of proposals: technical capabilities, compliance with requirements, direct general construction capabilities, and geotechnical. For the management area, it listed eight items or subfactors: organizational structure and qualifications of staff, chemical quality management, quality control, health and safety, program management, cost and schedule tracking, corporate financial soundness, and subcontract administration. For each of these items, the solicitation provided instructions describing the type of information that should be included in proposals for evaluation purposes.

The solicitation advised offerors that proposals would be evaluated under the Streamlined Source Selection Procedures established in Air Force Regulation 70-30. These procedures require the Air Force to conduct two evaluations of proposals. After the initial evaluation, the contracting officer determines the competitive range, excluding from further consideration all proposals that require major revisions to provide the required level of detail or that fail to meet a minimum evaluation standard. The proposals that are within the competitive range are evaluated a second time after best and final offers have been submitted.

EnviroSearch submitted its proposal, which was evaluated by the technical team assigned to the source selection. The evaluation process included preparing a narrative assessment of each proposal, the results of which were then expressed as color-coded ratings for each evaluation item. The color rating system was as follows: a rating of blue meant exceptional; green meant acceptable; yellow meant marginal; and red meant unacceptable.

The team found numerous deficiencies throughout EnviroSearch's proposal, and assigned it an overall rating of red, indicating that it failed to meet evaluation standards or requiring a major revision to the proposal to make it acceptable. The preponderance of color ratings for the various evaluation items was yellow; a few items were rated green; the second subfactor under the management evaluation factor, concerning chemical quality management, was rated red. No evaluation items were rated blue. The proposal's overall risk was rated "high." The score sheet shows that the evaluators considered the proposal weak in technical and geotechnical areas, and considered the protester's chemical capabilities very weak. In addition, no mention was made in the proposal of the firm's field lab capabilities. The proposal also showed a poor understanding of delivery orders, since the protester's response to the sample delivery orders was incomplete. Based on this evaluation, the contracting officer excluded EnviroSearch's proposal from the competitive range. Upon notification of its exclusion, EnviroSearch filed this protest.

The evaluation of proposals and the resulting determination as to whether an offeror is in the competitive range are matters within the discretion of the procuring agency, since that agency is responsible for defining its needs and deciding on the best methods of accommodating them. Abt Assocs., Inc., B-237060.2, Feb. 26, 1990, 90-1 CPD Para. 223. We will question the agency's technical evaluation only where the record shows that the evaluation does not have a reasonable basis or is inconsistent with the RFP. JEM Assocs., B-245060.2, Mar. 6, 1992, 92-1 CPD Para. 263. The fact that the protester disagrees with the agency does not itself render the evaluation unreasonable. Id. Where a proposal is technically unacceptable as submitted and would require major revisions to become acceptable, the agency is not required to include the proposal in the competitive range. See DBA Sys., Inc., B-241048, Jan. 15, 1991, 91-1 CPD Para. 36.

From our review of the record, we conclude that the agency's evaluation of EnviroSearch's proposal and determination that the proposal was not within the competitive range were reasonable and consistent with the terms of the RFP. The RFP repeatedly cautioned offerors to include sufficient technical information in their proposals to allow evaluators to make a final determination regarding technical merit without requesting any additional information. Offerors were advised to assume that the evaluation teams had no previous knowledge of offering firms management and experience, and that they would base their evaluations on the information presented in proposals. Regarding format, the RFP instructed offerors to address and track the numerical sequence of the specific information requested in the RFP's statement of work in their proposals, and advised that if information required for proposal evaluation was not found in the section designated for its presentation, it might be assumed to have been omitted from the proposal. EnviroSearch failed to include sufficient detail to establish its understanding of what was required under the RFP. For example, offerors were to be evaluated for general quality control program management and more specifically for chemical quality management, which were the second and third most important management subfactors. The RFP's statement of work requires contractors to prepare and follow a quality control plan. This plan is the contractor's system for managing and controlling the quality of work, and for documenting compliance with the remedial design, and ensures that the contractor does the work in the required way. In its proposal, however, EnviroSearch failed to demonstrate that the firm knows how to prepare or use a quality control plan to ensure proper sampling and analysis of chemicals. In the sections of its proposal entitled "Chemical Quality Management" and "Quality Control," EnviroSearch provides general outlines of the firm's quality assurance/quality control program and refers to a sample chemical quality management plan that is included in an appendix to the proposal.

The sample plan, while providing more information than the narrative portions of the proposal, still lacks the level of detail required by the RFP. As the agency points out in its report, the firm apparently forgot to insert a table in its appendix which would have provided more detailed information, since one page bears the heading "Table 1 -Analytical Methods, Containers, Preservatives, and Holding Times for Soil and Groundwater Samples," but then is blank. As another example, the section discussing groundwater sampling states that before collecting groundwater samples, monitoring wells "will have been properly developed," and "will have a minimum of three casing volumes of water removed and then be allowed to recharge and stabilize." However, the proposal does not address the development of the wells, nor does it discuss how the firm will determine that the well has recharged and restablized or what in fact this process entails, nor does it disclose how the firm will dispose of the water it first removes, which may be contaminated.

EnviroSearch's proposals responding to the sample delivery orders similarly lacked detail. For example, the first delivery order involved the installation of a system to remove free-floating gasoline and JP-4 from atop the groundwater table. This response was to be evaluated under the technical area for compliance with requirements, and geotechnical capabilities, and health and safety under the management factor. In this connection, offerors were required to submit project proposals with a "detailed description of the proposed implementation plans to meet the requirements of this task . . . [including] health and safety measures to be taken, equipment to be installed, a schedule for implementation, and detailed costs for completion of the task." EnviroSearch did not provide a detailed description of how it would install the well; however, stating only that "all drilling and well construction activities will be conducted by licensed drillers and supervised by experienced geologists to ensure that the appropriate construction quality control procedures are followed." The firm defends this cursory approach in its protest by stating that it had "elected not to provide details on exactly how the drilling would be performed and the wells installed. EnviroSearch utilizes standard industry practices in all remediation projects."

Air Force evaluators identified other examples where the proposal lacks detail and which support their conclusion that the proposal failed to establish the protester's understanding of, and capability to perform, the RFP requirements. For example, under health and safety issues, specifically the "spill containment program," the proposal merely contains a subheading "handling of drums and other containers," without any further discussion of any program or topic. Further, the protester admits its proposal did not include a schedule of implementation for one of the sample delivery orders to be evaluated because it believed a schedule was not required. As the agency correctly points out, "a schedule for implementation" for the project was specifically listed under the sample delivery requirements. The agency also notes that the proposal contained bottom-line results of calculations without providing the calculation methodology.

In our view, the RFP clearly instructed offerors that proposals should be submitted with sufficient detail to demonstrate the offeror's understanding of the work to be performed and its ability to do the work. We believe the Air Force reasonably concluded that EnviroSearch's proposal did not demonstrate the level of understanding and ability as required by the RFP, and that the proposal would require major revisions to do so.

EnviroSearch's comments on the agency report do not directly rebut the agency's evaluation and criticisms of the firm's proposal, but rather are directed against alleged deficiencies in the RFP, contending for example that the RFP did not adequately place offerors on notice of the requirement for detailed information and that certain requirements in the RFP were unduly burdensome, particularly for small businesses. We disagree, as discussed above, with the contention that the RFP did not make the requirement for detailed submissions clear; we find numerous instructions in the solicitation cautioning offerors about this requirement. In addition, to the extent EnviroSearch's comments challenge the propriety of the RFP's terms, these issues are untimely raised at this point. Our Bid Protest Regulations provide that protests based upon alleged improprieties in a solicitation which are apparent prior to the time set for receipt of initial proposals shall be filed prior to the time set for receipt of initial proposals. 4 C.F.R. Sec. 21.2(a)(1) (1993).

In sum, the record reasonably supports the agency's exclusion of EnviroSearch's proposal from the competitive range based on the agency's conclusion that the proposal was technically unacceptable and would require major revisions.

The protest is denied.