Protest Alleging That Awardee Received Unfair Competitive Advantage

B-200142: Apr 16, 1981

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A firm protested the award of a research and development, cost reimbursement contract by the Department of Energy (DOE). The request for proposals (RFP) called for proposals for drilling and testing of exploratory wells to assess the engineering feasibility and related economies of recovery associated hydrocarbons and thermal and hydraulic energy. The protester contended that the RFP required in situ testing at maximum flow rates for which the wells were to be designed. The protester also contended that DOE knew it had misinterpreted the RFP and had an obligation to so inform it during competitive range discussions that the RFP did not require in situ testing at maximum flow rates. Finally, the protester contended that the award was not founded rationally because the source selection official (SSO) improperly assessed the awardee's technical proposal in the light of contradictory information in the technical evaluation board report. The DOE position was that the RFP did not impose a requirement for in situ testing at maximum flow rates and that there would be little reason to impose such a requirement. Both DOE and the awardee stated that in situ measurements usually are taken at a lower flow rate. GAO agreed and stated that apparently the protester mistakenly believed that because the RFP required the well designs to accommodate 40,000 and 30,000 barrels per day, it also required that in situ testing must be performed at maximum flow rates. However, GAO found nothing in the RFP explicitly imposing a requirement that in situ testing be performed at maximum flow rates. The record did not support the conclusion that DOE knew that the protester had misinterpreted the RFP to require in situ testing at full rates so as to require discussions of that point. Because of conflicting statements in the protester's best and final offer, GAO did not think that the protester's explanations reasonably conveyed to DOE that it had misconstrued the RFP. Thus, it could not conclude that DOE was required to specifically alert the protester to its misinterpretation. GAO found that the alleged inconsistencies in the protester's final complaint could be explained and reconciled with the information in the technical evaluation board report. It did not believe that the SSO statements were contradictory in the light of this report. Accordingly, the protest was denied.