Protest of Cost Reimbursement Contract Award

B-196365: May 27, 1980

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A firm protested the award of a cost reimbursement contract to another firm under a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the Department of Education. The RFP solicited proposals for an 18-month study of student flow between special and regular education. The protester contended that: (1) the level of effort proposed by the awardee was less than what was permitted in the RFP; (2) the Department of Education's acceptance of this level indicated a substantial change in the Government's requirements; (3) the contracting officer improperly conducted discussions with the awardee after the closing date for receipt of the second best and final offers; and (4) the selection officials deviated from the evaluation criteria of the RFP. GAO held that: (1) the protester's request for the reopening of negotiations was untimely; (2) the Department of Education's acceptance of the proposal with a reduced level of effort did not require an amendment of the RFP; (3) the information requested and obtained from one offeror after the second round of best and final offers constituted discussions with the awardee and required reopening of negotiations with the protester; and (4) in the face of serious objections to the award by a project officer, and a lack of any basis in the record to support the contracting officer's decision that the proposals were technically equal, the award of the contract on a proposal inferior in quality simply because it offered a better price was not a rational basis. Accordingly, the protest was sustained. However, there was no meaningful relief that could be offered in this case, as about half of the 18-month contract term was already completed.