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A firm which was the low bidder on a Forest Service contract for tree thinning and related work sought a withdrawal of its bid, based on an alleged mistake in the bid price. The Forest Service concluded that the firm did not present clear and convincing evidence that a mistake occurred and awarded a contract to the firm. The solicitation contained two items, each relating to a different geographic area within a forest. Bidders were permitted to qualify their bids to limit the amount of work they would perform. The firm in question, operated by two brothers, was the apparent low bidder on both items. Since it had qualified its bid with a ceiling price, however, it was ineligible to receive awards on the two items. The contracting officer determined that the Government's interest would be best served by pairing the brothers' low bid on item two with the second low bid on item one. In a preaward telephone conversation, which was conducted with a third party because the awardees were not fluent in English, the contract specialist was notified of a possible mistake in the firm's bid. The contract specialist then requested, by mail, verification of the bid. According to the letter, the reason for the request was that the Forest Service was on constructive notice of a bidding mistake because the bid price on item two was substantially lower than the Government estimate. In response, the firm claimed a mistake in its bid price due to an inability to understand the contract specifications. The Forest Service concluded that the firm had not presented clear and convincing evidence that a mistake had been made and awarded a contract to the firm for item two. GAO stated that the record indicated that a bona fide mistake had been made. The Forest Service admittedly had constructive notice of the mistake prior to contract award, and the firm had submitted evidence which reasonably indicated that there was a mistake in its bid. Thus, the Forest Service's award to the firm did not consummate a valid and binding contract. GAO concluded that, since no work has been performed to date, the purported award should be rescinded.


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