GAO Repudiates Past Performance Evaluation, Agency Didn’t Sufficiently Document Assessment of Relevancy

B-1972 | Shutterstock
Starlight Corporation, GAO B-420267.3, B-420267.4

There’s a reason math teachers require students to show their work. When you have to set out your thought process, it demonstrates your understanding of the problem and exposes flaws in your reasoning. That same principle underlies GAO’s requirement that an agency document its evaluation. An agency can’t just assign ratings without explaining itself. Here, the agency found offerors’ past performance references relevant without further elucidation. GAO sustained the protest, finding that kind of “simple binary assessment” doesn’t cut it.


The Air Force issued a solicitation seeking cleaning services for aircraft. After evaluating four offers, the Air Force awarded the contract to Empire Aircraft Services. The incumbent, Starlight Corporation, protested, challenging the past performance evaluation.

Legal Analysis

  • Agency Failed to Properly Document Evaluation – Starlight contended that the Air Force failed to properly document its assessment of the relevancy of Emprie’s past performance references. GAO agreed. The evaluation just included a notation of “relevant” for each contract. While the solicitation did not prohibit “binary assessments” of relevancy, an agency must still sufficiently document its evaluation. Given the lack of documentation, GAO did not have sufficient information to assess the reasonableness of the evaluation. 
  • Agency Wrongly Penalized Starlight for Quality of Its PPQs – Starlight submitted past performance questionnaires from its references. The PPQs all reported excellent performance. But the agency downgraded Starlight past performance because one of the PPQ’s did not include a narrative about the company’s performance. GAO found this improper. The PPQ did not require references to include a narrative if they rated performance as exceptional. It was unreasonable for the agency to penalize Starlight for the lack of a narrative.

Starlight is represented by Kristin Zachman of Bailey & Bailey, PC. The intervenor, Empire, is represented by Brian A. Darst. The agency is represented by Lieutenant Colonel Keric Clanaham and Erika Whelan Retta of the Air Force. GAO attorneys Sarah T. Zaffina and Jennifer D. Westlfall-McGrail participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - Starlight Corporation