“By the Time I Get to Arizona”: Key Person’s Relocation to Tucson Doesn’t Mean He’s Unavailable; NCI Information Systems, Inc., GAO B-417805.5 et al.

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Protest challenging the agency’s evaluation of the awardee’s proposal is denied. The protester argued the agency misevaluated the awardee’s compensation plan, but GAO found the evaluation reasonable. The protester alleged that the awardee’s proposal was unacceptable because a key employees was unavailable. GAO found that the awardee did not have actual notice that its employee was unavailable and thus had no obligation to notify the agency. The protester further argued that the awardee’s proposal failed to identify subcontractors it would use to meet small business goals. The solicitation, however, did not require offerors to identify small business subcontractors.

The Army published a solicitation for award of task order to provide systems engineering and technical assistance. NCI Information Systems and DCS Corporation submitted proposals. The Army awarded the task order to DCS, finding that it had a higher rated technical proposal. NCI protested.

NCI alleged the Army botched the evaluation of DCS’s proposed compensation for professional employees. NCI claimed DCS had proposed to hire NCUI’s incumbent employees but planned to pay them less, so the Army should not have assigned strengths to DCS’s professional compensation approach.

GAO noted that there were instances across the labor categories where DCS had proposed higher rates than NCI. Also, the record showed that the Army evaluated DCS’s labor rates, identified rates that were unrealistic, addressed those rates in discussions, and ultimately concluded they were fine. The Army reviewed the compensation plans for all the offerors and concluded they were relatively similar and that a reasonable employee would not take issue with the plans. The evaluation of professional compensation was therefore reasonable.

Next, NCI argued that DCS’s proposal should have been found unacceptable because a proposed key person was no longer available. NCI contended that based on publicly available information, it appeared that DCS’s proposed materials engineer had moved from Washington, DC to Tucson, Arizona for a new job.

GAO reasoned that an offeror is required to advise an agency when it knows a key employee is no longer available, but there is no such requirement when an offeror does not have actual knowledge of the employee’s unavailability. Here, the proposed materials engineer was not employed by DCS. Moreover, DCS stated that this key person had not notified the company that he would be unavailable. The employee, had not, for instance, rescinded his letter of intent. Under the circumstances DCS had no obligation to inform the Army that a key person was unavailable.

NCI also took issue with the Army’s evaluation under the small business participation factor, contending that the DCS had failed to identify the subcontractors that would meet the woman-owned and HUBZone small business goals. But GAO found that the solicitation did not require offerors to identify the firms that would use to meet the small business goals. DCS had proposed to meet all of the stated small business goals. That was sufficient.

Finally, NCI argued that the best value tradeoff was flawed because two of the strengths the Army had relied on as discriminators were illusory; they only impacted DCS employees and not subcontractors’ employees. GAO reasoned that the fact that DCS’s strengths only applied to a portion of the workforce did not negate the benefits identified by the agency.

NCI is represented by Daniel P. Graham, Jamie F. Tabb, Elizabeth Krabill McIntyre, and John M. Satira of Vinson & Elkins LLP. The intervenor, DCS, is represented by Paul A. Debolt, Emily A. Unnasch, and Christina E. Wood of Venable, LLP. The agency is represented by Dylan C. Bush and Wade L. Brown of the Army. GAO attorneys Charmaine A. Stevenson and Laura Eyester participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - NCI Information Systems