Lessons Learned in Strength-Based Winning® from GAO’s Protest Docket

Part 3 – Here’s a summary of three cases from GAO’s January 2023 Protest Docket

Lessons Learned in Strength-Based Winning from GAO's Protest DocketThe Government Accountability Office (GAO) Protest Docket is one of the best sources of information to learn how the government grades best value competitions. The Docket explains the proposal requirements, how the government graded the proposal, and their justification for the score. Here’s a summary of three cases from GAO’s January 2023 Protest Docket with lessons you can use to improve your proposal scores. Our summary deletes references to the solicitation name, protester, and winners(s) to focus on key messages from GAO’s findings.

Agency: Department of the Army (January 18, 2023)

  • The score: The contract winner (a challenger) received an overall rating of outstanding with an evaluated price of $26,004,308, whereas the protester (the incumbent) received an overall rating of good with an evaluated price of $22,769,372. The agency found both offerors’ prices to be fair and reasonable.
    • Winner’s score: The agency assigned the winner two strengths and no weaknesses or deficiencies. The first strength was a management information system (MIS) that increases human capital management efficiency and reduces staffing risk. The second strength was a commitment to hiring incumbent personnel and staffing the contract in a timely manner.
    • Protester’s score: The agency assigned the protester (incumbent) a good score and gave them one strength with no weaknesses or deficiencies. The strength was their plan to retain their incumbent staff and the commitments from these staff members.
  • The issue: The protester stated that the agency unreasonably failed to assign multiple strengths to its proposal. However, GAO denied the protest because the protester failed to demonstrate that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable or inconsistent with the terms of the solicitation. In addition, the agency’s selection of a higher technically rated proposal at a higher price was supported because the agency identified a discriminator (its MIS for managing the staff) to justify its selection of the higher price.
  • The lesson learned: If you are the incumbent, don’t assume you will win if you are offering the customer the same level of service, even if it’s at a cheaper price. Always look for ways to improve your service delivery and reduce the customer’s risk. Identify strengths and discriminators across all evaluated criteria.

Agency: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (January 18, 2023)

  • The score: The agency required the offerors to conduct an oral presentation, compete in a coding challenge, present their staffing and team composition, and submit a price proposal. Both winner and challenger received high confidence scores across all the evaluated criteria. The agency noted that the winner scored slightly higher in the coding challenge. The winner submitted a price of $81,495,644, and the protester submitted a price of $92,116,194.
  • The issue: The protester raised several issues. First, the winner exceeded the Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) labor category rates; however, the agency found that when a GWAC period of performance had not expired, the agency expected offerors to stay within their stated GWAC rates. But, for periods beyond the life of the GWAC, the agency envisioned that it is permissible. Second, the protester indicated that the winner used a labor category in its bid that did not meet the solicitation’s requirements for that position. However, the agency found it acceptable within its discretion.
  • The lesson learned: Understand your GWAC and how to price it, especially if the timeframe of the GWAC is drawing to a close. Verify your ability to use comparable labor categories in your staffing plan while remaining compliant with instructions. You may find ways to lower your price.

Agency: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) (January 23, 2023)

  • The score: The agency rated the contractors on several criteria:
Criteria Protester Winner
Similar experience Exceptional Acceptable
Technical Approach Exceptional Exceptional
Staffing and Qualifications Acceptable Exceptional
Overall Rating Exceptional Exceptional
Total Evaluated Price $135,594,429 $93,207,631
  • The issue: The protester claimed the General Services Administration (GSA) unreasonably evaluated the vendors’ quotations and made an unreasonable best-value determination. GSA sustained their protest. GSA found that the agency’s evaluation was unreasonable because it miscalculated the winner’s full-time employees (FTEs). The winner had 103 FTEs, only two fewer than the protester. As a result of the agency’s miscalculated FTEs, the average number of FTEs that the agency used as a unit of comparison was also inaccurate. The agency’s error permeated its price analysis. Therefore, GAO found the agency’s price evaluation unreasonable.
  • The lesson learned: If you have reason to believe that your price proposal was unfairly scored, challenge the agency’s evaluation. In this case, GAO sustained the protester’s challenge.

By Brenda Crist, Vice President at Lohfeld Consulting Group, MPA, CPP APMP Fellow

Lohfeld Consulting Group has proven results specializing in helping companies create winning captures and proposals.
As the premier capture and proposal services consulting firm focused exclusively on government markets, we provide expert assistance to government contractors in Capture Planning and Strategy, Proposal Management and Writing, Capture and Proposal Process and Infrastructure, and Training. In the last 3 years, we’ve supported over 550 proposals winning more than $170B for our clients—including the Top 10 government contractors. Lohfeld Consulting Group is your “go-to” capture and proposal source! Start winning by contacting us at www.lohfeldconsulting.com and join us on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.