Matter of: Agriculture Technology Partners File: B-272978; B-272978.2 Date: December 5, 1996

B-272978,B-272978.2: Dec 5, 1996

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Agency determination to exclude protester's proposal from the competitive range is unobjectionable where the agency properly concluded. On the basis of an evaluation which was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation evaluation criteria and in light of the receipt of several superior proposals. The agency excluded ATP's proposal from the competitive range on the basis that it did not have a reasonable chance of being selected for award due to numerous weaknesses and deficiencies in the proposal. [1] ATP contends that its proposal was misevaluated and that the consequent elimination of its proposal from the competitive range was improper. The subfactors for corporate experience are the 15 support service requirements described in section C of the RFP.

Matter of: Agriculture Technology Partners File: B-272978; B-272978.2 Date: December 5, 1996

Agency determination to exclude protester's proposal from the competitive range is unobjectionable where the agency properly concluded, on the basis of an evaluation which was reasonable and consistent with the solicitation evaluation criteria and in light of the receipt of several superior proposals, that the proposal had no reasonable chance of being selected for award.

Attorneys

DECISION

Agriculture Technology Partners (ATP) protests the exclusion of its proposal from the competitive range under request for proposals (RFP) No. FSA-R-001-96DC, issued by the Department of Agriculture for information resource management development and support services. The agency excluded ATP's proposal from the competitive range on the basis that it did not have a reasonable chance of being selected for award due to numerous weaknesses and deficiencies in the proposal. [1] ATP contends that its proposal was misevaluated and that the consequent elimination of its proposal from the competitive range was improper.

We deny the protest.

The agency issued the RFP on February 5, 1996, to obtain a wide range of information resource management development and support services for the offices of the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service located across the United States. The RFP contemplated the award of multiple indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts for the base year with four 1-year options. The RFP stated that technical criteria would be more important than price in the source selection decision. The RFP set forth a 19,800-point technical evaluation scheme and provided that proposals would be evaluated under the following technical criteria, listed in descending order of importance: corporate experience, past performance, and staff. The solicitation also listed subfactors for each of the evaluation factors. The subfactors for corporate experience are the 15 support service requirements described in section C of the RFP, such as system analysis, geographic information systems, and imaging. In evaluating corporate experience, the TEP evaluated the complexity, relevancy, and the time frame of each offeror's experience in performing each of the support service requirements.

Eleven proposals were received in response to the solicitation, and the agency, after considering both cost and technical factors, included the seven highest technically ranked proposals in the competitive range. ATP's proposal was ranked 10th technically out of the 11 proposals received, at a price higher than that offered by 4 of the 7 proposals that were included in the competitive range. The technical evaluation panel (TEP) determined that ATP's proposal had three deficiencies and four weaknesses and therefore had no reasonable chance of receiving an award. This protest followed with the protester arguing that the agency improperly excluded its proposal from the competitive range.

The determination of which proposals to include in the competitive range is a decision largely committed to the discretion of the contracting officer. National Sys. Management Corp., 70 Comp.Gen. 443 (1991), 91-1 CPD Para. 408. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) directs contracting officers to include within the competitive range "all proposals that have a reasonable chance of being selected for award" and provides that, "[w]hen there is doubt as to whether a proposal is in the competitive range, the proposal should be included." FAR Sec. 15.609(a). However, even where a proposal is fully acceptable technically (or could be rendered so through discussions), it may properly be excluded from the competitive range if, in light of the competing proposals, the contracting officer determines that the proposal has no reasonable chance of award. Curry Contracting Co., Inc., B-254355, Dec. 13, 1993, 93-2 CPD Para. 334.

In reviewing the agency's determination to exclude a proposal from the competitive range, we apply the standard used in reviewing all aspects of an agency's technical evaluation of proposals: we review the record to determine whether the agency's judgment, including the judgment that a particular proposal did not have a reasonable chance of award was reasonable, supported by the record, and consistent with the applicable evaluation criteria. Tri-Services, Inc., B-256196.4, Sept. 30, 1994, 94-2 CPD Para. 121.

Here, under the most heavily weighted evaluation criterion, corporate experience, the agency found ATP's proposal to be deficient in the areas of geographic information systems (GIS) and distributed and open systems computing, and weak with regard to software maintenance. We will discuss these in turn.

Under the GIS subfactor, offerors were to describe their experience in providing GIS and system integration and support for implementation and integration of applications that used geoprocessing technologies. The support is to result in information systems that interface users, data (spatial and non-spatial), GIS capabilities, and existing information systems. ATP received an "unacceptable" score of 238 out of 500 points for this evaluation subfactor. The TEP noted that ATP lacked corporate experience in developing systems that manage information for large geographic areas and managing large spatial databases. At a hearing held in connection with this protest, an agency evaluator noted that because this contract was national in scope, the RFP sought offerors with GIS support experience in multi-state, multi-county geographic areas, and that ATP received an unacceptable score in this area because it had only provided support to users in a single city or a single Air Force base. Videotape Transcript (VT) at 12:44-12:45. The evaluator further noted that this contract called for the planning, implementation and management of a GIS system, and that ATP's primary GIS contract with the City of Falls Church involved only planning a GIS system and covered a period of only 2 months. VT at 12:51.

ATP also received an "unacceptable" score of 262 out of 500 points for its distributed and open systems computing corporate experience. Distributed and open systems computing refers to the process of moving information from one platform through a combination of networks to another platform. Under this evaluation subfactor, offerors were to state their experience in providing systems analysis and support in the development and implementation of systems that interoperate over networks. The evaluators found that while ATP demonstrated experience in implementing client/server systems that communicate over networks, they noted that it referred only to the POSIX standard, and therefore it was not clear to the TEP whether the system that ATP had provided involved a single operating system or a distributed system, which involves multiple operating systems. [2] An evaluator noted that POSIX compliance may be a reference to a single operating system, and that without a more complete description of the systems that ATP had provided the agency was unable to determine whether ATP provided a distributed system. VT at 10:57-11:02. Another evaluator noted that ATP's proposal was downgraded because it contained conclusory statements regarding its distributed and open systems computing experience, rather than a complete description of the components of the system that ATP had provided. VT at 13:00.

ATP received 675 out of 900 points for its corporate experience in providing software maintenance. ATP's proposal was determined to be "acceptable" but weak in this area. The TEP noted that the systems that ATP supported were distributed, at most, to 250 sites, whereas this contract requires maintenance of far more sites across the nation.

While ATP contends that its proposal fully met the requirements under corporate experience for GIS, distributed and open systems computing, and software maintenance, ATP has not credibly established that its proposal meets those requirements. Rather, the record shows that the evaluators could reasonably view ATP's proposal as they did and reasonably downgraded ATP's proposal as a result. While ATP disagrees with the agency's evaluation, that disagreement does not render the evaluation unreasonable. Litton Sys. Inc., B-237596.3, Aug. 8, 1990, 90-2 CPD Para. 115. [3]

ATP also objects to the composition of the TEP on the basis that two of the four evaluators were not sufficiently knowledgeable about GIS and distributed and open systems computing. The composition of technical evaluation teams is a matter within the discretion of the agency which we will not review without a showing of possible abuse of that discretion in light of a conflict of interest or actual bias on the part of evaluators. Herndon Science and Software, Inc., B-245505, Jan. 9, 1992, 92-1 CPD Para. 46. ATP alleges neither.

ATP also complains that the members of the TEP lacked any knowledge, outside of what was included in ATP's proposal, of the GIS and distributed and open systems computing capabilities regarding the four systems that ATP had provided to Agriculture. Offerors are expected to demonstrate their capabilities in their proposals rather than simply relying on what they believe is known about them by contracting officials; those who do not furnish detailed, comprehensive proposals do so at their own risk. See Computerized Project Management Plus, B-247063, Apr. 28, 1992, 92-1 CPD Para. 401. Consequently, this assertion provides no basis to object to the evaluation of ATP's proposal.

Finally, ATP argues that the RFP failed to define the term "complexity," that was used to evaluate each offeror's corporate experience with the various support requirements. Specifically, ATP argues that it was never told that the agency was viewing "complexity" in terms of quantitative, rather than qualitative items. "Complexity" is not a precise term; if ATP did not understand what might be encompasssed by the term, it should have sought amendment of (or protested) the RFP on this basis prior to the closing time. 4 C.F.R. Sec. 21.2(a)(1) (1996). In any case, we note that ATP has not pointed to any information in its proposal that relates to the complexity of ATP's distributed and open systems computing and GIS systems that was ignored by the TEP. [4]

In the factual context here, these two deficiencies and one weakness concerning corporate experience are sufficient to justify the elimination of ATP's proposal from the competitive range. [5] Where an agency received several proposals that are superior in terms of technical merit or price (or both), it may eliminate other proposals from the competitive range, even where those proposals are fully acceptable or even considered good, if the agency reasonably concludes that those proposals do not have a realistic chance of award. Coe-Truman Technologies, Inc., B-257480, Sept. 12, 1994, 94-2 CPD Para. 136. Here, ATP's proposal failed to demonstrate GIS experience and software maintenance experience on the national scope contemplated by this contract and failed to demonstrate that it had provided distributed and open systems computing experience involving multiple operating systems. In light of the receipt of several superior proposals, the agency reasonably determined that ATP's proposal did not have a reasonable chance of award.

The protest is denied.

Comptroller General of the United States

1. ATP, a joint venture by I-Net, Inc. and Vitro Corporation, was formed to submit a proposal on this procurement.

2. POSIX has provided operating system interface standards which allow programs to be written for a target environment in which they could run unchanged in a variety of systems. The scope of the POSIX family of standards includes operating systems, data base management, data interchange/document processing, network services, user interfaces, and programming services. POSIX is comprised of at least 11 different levels of distributed open systems. For example, POSIX.1 is comprised of part of the open systems standards listed above.

3. ATP also contends that in evaluating its past performance the agency improperly downgraded ATP's proposal due to its joint venture status. The agency has specifically denied this allegation. Based on our review of the record, we find no support for this allegation.

4. While ATP also argues that it should have been provided with an opportunity to correct its deficiencies and weakness in discussions, it was not entitled to discussions because its proposal was properly eliminated from the competitive range. Drytech, Inc., B-246276.2, Apr. 28, 1992, 92-1 CPD Para. 398.

5. ATP also contends that the TEP improperly evaluated its proposal under the staff evaluation factor. Even if we were to conclude that the agency's evaluation under this factor was flawed, we would not consider this protest ground further. Prejudice is an essential element of a viable protest; consequently, we will not sustain a protest against an alleged evaluation error unless the protester was somehow prejudiced. See Square 537 Assocs. Ltd. Partnership, B-249403.2, Apr. 21, 1994, 94-1 CPD Para. 272. Even if ATP's proposal received the 1,600 points that were deducted under this evaluation factor, and its total score increased from 15,258 to 16,858 points, ATP's technical score would still remain lower than the score of the lowest rated proposal in the competitive range, and its price is higher than four of the seven proposals that were included in the competitive range. Under these circumstances, we see no basis to conclude that ATP was prejudiced by this alleged evaluation error, and therefore deny this protest ground. AEC-ABLE Eng'g Co., Inc., B-257798.2, Jan. 24, 1995, 95-1 CPD Para. 37.