Agency Argues Tradeoff Was Result of “Extensively Exercised Independent Judgment,” But GAO Rejects that Argument Like It’s Kid Rock’s Application for a McArthur Foundation Genius Grant; Alpha Omega Integration, LLC, GAO B-419812, B-419812.2

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Protest challenging agency’s best-value tradeoff is sustained. GAO found that the contracting officer had not qualitatively assessed the differences between the protester and awardee, failed to substantively discuss the specific qualities in vendors’ quotations, and did not explain the awardee’s allegedly superior features.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a solicitation to holders of the CIO-Solutions Partners 3 governmentwide acquisition contract. The solicitation was set aside for participants in SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. The solicitation contemplated award of a task order for a variety of professional services—e.g., supporting enterprise class business systems, cloud services, distance learning.

USDA received eight quotations. Alpha Omega, LLC and Synergy Business Innovation & Solutions submitted the lowest-priced bids. The contracting officer performed a best-value tradeoff between Alpha Omega and Synergy. The contracting officer noted that Alpha Omega and Synergy had similar adjectival ratings, but that the Synergy’s proposal was stronger overall under the most important evaluation factors. The contracting office concluded that while Synergy’s quotation was slightly more expensive, it provided “incredible value” to the government. Following award to Synergy, Alpha Omega protested.

Alpha Omega argued that the source selection decision was inadequately documented. The contracting officer had failed to explain what features in Synergy’s proposal warranted the price premium. USDA responsded that the contracting officer “extensively exercised independent judgment” and that the decision was reasonable and sufficiently documented.

GAO sided with Alpha Omega. Nothing in the record showed that the contracting officer had qualitatively assessed the differences between Alpha Omega and Synergy. Notably absent from the tradeoff analysis was any substantive discussions of the specific qualities in each quotation. While the contracting officer mentioned Synergy’s “technical expertise” and “unique innovative processes,” the decision did not provide any additional explanation of these features. A general statement falls short of the requirement to justify a tradeoff decision.

GAO recommended the agency conduct a new best-value tradeoff analysis.

Alpha Omega is represented by David B. Robbins, Noah B. Bleicher, Carla J. Weiss, Moshe B. Broder, and Scott E. Whitman of Jenner & Block. The intervenor, , is represented by Anuj Vohra, William B. O’Reilly, and Christian N. Curran of Crowell & Moring LLP. The agency is represented by Tyler Ellis of the Department of Agriculture. GAO attorneys Katherine I. Riback and Evan C. Williams participated in the preparation of the decision.

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