Protest of Department of Agriculture Request for Proposals

B-198020: Oct 10, 1980

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A firm protested several provisions of a request for proposals (RFP) issued by the Food and Nutrition Service for the design, implementation, installation, testing, and maintenance of a system to obtain data on the food stamp program. The protester contended that the evaluation criteria contained in the RFP did not apprise offerors of the relative importance of cost and technical factors. The protester also alleged that the RFP created an impermissible conflict of interest by requiring the successful offeror to evaluate its own contract performance. Finally, the protester contended that certain tasks required by the RFP should not have been contracted out because they violated Government guidelines concerning the use of consultants, and because they required the contractor to perform functions normally performed by civil servants in violation of the Pellerzi standards. As to the first contention, after reading the RFP as a whole, a reasonable offeror should have concluded that cost was secondary to quality. However, even assuming that the RFP was deficient in this respect, all offerors were informed of the relative importance of cost by the contracting officer and, therefore, no offeror was prejudiced by the alleged defect. Regarding the second contention, the procuring agency felt that a change it made in the RFP eliminated any potential conflict of interest inherent in the initial statement in the task. The responsibility for determining whether a conflict of interest exists rests with the procuring agency, and GAO will overturn such a determination only when it is shown to be unreasonable. In this case, the determination was not unreasonable. The contention that requiring the contractor to set acceptance standards for system tests and to manage the system constituted improper use of consulting services was denied because subsequent amendments required the contractor to submit acceptance standards to Government technical experts for acceptance or rejection prior to testing, and the system management requirement was deleted by amendments. Requiring the contractor to operate the system in the final phase of the contract was not a violation of the Pellerzi standards because the system operation was an integral part of the final phase of system development by the contractor, and the RFP provided that the contractor's employees were not subject to supervision by Government employees. The protest was denied.