Protest of HEW Contract Award

B-195792: Aug 18, 1980

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The incumbent on a contract for the breeding and maintenance of a Government-owned chimpanzee colony protested the award of the contract to another firm. The protest was also the subject of litigation, and the court expressed an interest in a decision by GAO. The protester objected to the evaluation of the awardee's proposal, contending that it was unacceptable, and that the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) arbitrarily interpreted various aspects of the request for proposals (RFP) in order to conclude that the awardee's proposal was acceptable. The protester asserted that the awardee had no research experience with hepatitis in nonhuman primates, a prerequisite for for the contract. Further, the protester complained about the qualifications of the technical evaluators and the HEW failure to conduct a comprehensive cost analysis. In considering objections to the technical evaluation of proposals, GAO examines the record and considers the meaning of the solicitation provisions. HEW used a two-level process to evaluate the technical proposals: (1) a review panel composed of non-Government consultants who were recognized experts in fields related to the solicitation, and (2) a panel composed of HEW program staff members and the contracting officer's representative. The composition of a technical evaluation panel is within the discretion of the contracting agency and, in the absence of allegations of fraud, bad faith, or conflct of interest, is not a matter for review by GAO. While the RFP provided for evaluation of experience in breeding and maintenance of a subhuman primate colony, it did not impose the requirement that offerors have specific experience with hepatitis. Absence of specific experience may not result in finding that the offeror was nonresponsible. The RFP required offerors to show the existence of safety standards to be followed in performing the contract, but did not require the submission of evidence of prior adherence to such standards. In accordance with the evaluation scheme, the awardee was found to have had the necessary experience, resources, and facilities to meet the contract requirements, including the maintenance of an acceptable breeding rate. While the agency cost evaluation was not as extensive as it might have been, it was not legally objectionable. It supported the conclusion that the awardee could meet all requirements at a much lower cost than the protester. Accordingly, the protest was denied.