Lessons Learned from the GAO Protest Docket – Part 4

The 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. A summary of three cases from GAO’s March 2023 Protest Docket follows 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 (March 2023)

The score: The agency rated the contractors on several criteria:

The issue: The protester stated that:

  • The award was tainted by personal conflicts of interest (PCI).
  • A government program analyst associated with the program accepted entertainment and/or gifts from the winner.
  • The agency did not perform a proper best-value tradeoff. It essentially converted the basis for an award from a tradeoff to a lowest-priced, technically acceptable (LPTA) source selection methodology.

The lesson learned: The contracting officer investigated the allegations and found no basis to conclude that the winner was ineligible for award because of the PCI. When comparing the benefits of each offeror’s proposal, the government could not identify any measurable benefits to justify paying more money. While the solicitation provides that past performance is more important than cost/price, the proposals were essentially equal. The protest was denied. The lesson learned here is that the higher score doesn’t win when there is a significant price differential. Truly differentiate your bid from the competition with multiple strengths across all evaluated criteria and a competitive price.

Department of the Air Force IDIQ (March 2023)

The score: None; the protester was eliminated from the competitive range.

The issue: The Air Force set up “go/no-go” evaluation criteria, stating that the offerors’ primary flight training location had to meet the gate requirements listed in the solicitation. The protester challenged the government’s exclusion of its proposal from the IDIQ based on its interpretation of the solicitation language.

The lesson learned: GAO found the protester’s interpretation that the request for proposal (RFP) did not require offerors to provide specific information in response to the RFP’s go/no-go gates section ignored solicitation provisions. The protester’s interpretation dismissed the paragraph titled “Gates (Go/No-Go)” and the paragraph that stated, “[i]f an Offeror fails to provide evidence of their ability to meet the primary flight training location requirements above, their proposal will be rendered ineligible for award.” The protest was denied.

The lesson learned here is to never skimp on compliance. If you have questions about the interpretation of RFP instructions, ask the government. If the government does not respond with clear guidance, discuss it among an internal company group to decipher its meaning. Additionally, make the proposal easy to evaluate so the government understands how you complied with their instructions.

Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (March 2023)

The score: The solicitation established a two-phased evaluation process with four evaluation factors: (1) technical capability; (2) staffing and management approach; (3) past performance; and (4) price. The RFP listed the non-price factors in descending order of importance and stated that the non-price factors combined were slightly more important than the price.

In Phase I of the evaluation, the government assessed offerors under the most important factor—technical capability. Following the Phase I evaluation, the agency intended to provide advisory notifications informing offerors whether their proposals were among the most highly competitive—and should proceed to Phase II.

The agency received 14 proposals in Phase I. It assigned four proposals (including the winner) a rating of “High Confidence,” five of the proposals (including the protester’s) a rating of “Some Confidence,” and the remaining five proposals a rating of “Low Confidence.”

After Phase II, the winner and protester earned the following scores:

The issue: The protester challenged the evaluators’ assessment of seven weaknesses in the firm’s proposal under the most important evaluation factor—Technical Capability. The protester also challenged the agency’s best-value tradeoff process.

The lesson learned: GAO sustained the protest because it found that the evaluation was inconsistent with the evaluation methodology set forth in the solicitation.

  • GAO sustained the elimination of the two weaknesses in the Staffing Plan because the agency stated it would assess an offeror’s “plan to achieve the objectives of the IDIQ statement of work (SOW)” and not on its verifiable experience.
  • GAO sustained the elimination of other weaknesses in the proposal because the agency failed to consider the entirety of the information in the firm’s proposal. As the protester maintained, the evaluators assessed weaknesses “based on a limited reliance on cherry-picked information when the purportedly missing information in question was provided in later portions” of the Technical Capability submission.

The lesson learned here is to carefully evaluate the government’s debrief findings to determine if they rated your proposal according to the RFP’s evaluation criteria. If not, you may have grounds for a successful protest.

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.