Does Experience with “Program Management” Make One a Program Manager?

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The protester argued that it should have received a significant strength for its proposed program manager based on his experience as a vice president and executive at Los Alamos National Labs. GAO, however, found that the agency had properly assigned the protester’s program manager a strength as opposed to a significant strength. In his role as an executive at Los Alamos, the proposed individual had obtained experience in “program management,” but he didn’t have experience as an actual program manager.

National TRU Solutions, LLC, GAO B-420913 et al.


The Department of Energy (DOE) issued an RFP for the removal of nuclear waste. Five offerors, including National TRU Solutions (NTS) and Tularosa Basin Range Services (TBRS), submitted proposals. DOE awarded the contract to TBRS, finding the company’s proposal was technically superior to all the others. NTS protested.


NTS’s Program Manager

NTS contended DOE should have assigned its proposed program manager a significant strength instead of a mere strength. NTS reasoned its program manager deserved a strength for his experience as a vice president and executive at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

GAO, however, found that DOE had properly assessed a strength. While working at Los Alamos, NTS’s program manager had worked in “program management.” But NTS had not represented that he had served as an actual program manager or that his duties covered the same scope of work as that required by the RFP.

TBRS’s Program Manager

NTS alleged TBRS’s program manager should have been assessed a weakness for lacking experience explicitly identified in the RFP. Specifically, NTS argued,TBRS’s manager lacked experience with mines.

But GAO didn’t see lack of experience with mines as a problem. The RFP provided that key personnel would be evaluated based on their experience performing similar work, including experience with mines, if related to the position. The RFP, however, also stated that the functions of key personnel would be dependent on each offeror’s organizational structure. Here, TBRS had proposed a program manager with responsibility over a wide range of PWS efforts, but this program manager didn’t have direct responsibility for mining efforts. Instead, TBRS had proposed a separate mining operation manager. Because TBRS’s program manager did not have any specific duties relating to mines, he didn’t need to have mining experience. A weakness was not warranted.

Past Performance

NTS complained that the DOE had improperly determined that one of the contract references submitted by its team member was not relevant. GAO, however, found that DOE had reasonably assessed the relevance of this performance. The RFP stated that the relevancy of a team member’s reference would be assessed based on the similarly of that reference’s scope, size, and complexity to the portion of the PWS the team member was proposed to perform. In this case, NTS’s proposed team member would have responsibility over all PWS requirements. But the team member’s reference only aligned with a small portion of PWS tasks. DOE had not erred in finding that reference not relevant.


NTS contended DOE had engaged in unequal discussions by allowing TBRS to provide pricing information that the company had failed to provide in its proposal. GAO disagreed. DOE had not invited or permitted TBRS to revise its proposal. Rather, DOE had asked TBRS to clarify with a “yes or no response” whether the sums TBRS had used in one proposal volume applied to another proposal volume. TBRS had simply answered “yes.” TBRS had not submitted new a revised proposal or new pricing information. The agency had thus merely sought clarifications, not discussions, from TBRS.

Evaluation of TBRS’s Affiliate

TBRS’s had stated in its proposal that it planned to rely on the resources of an affiliated company. NTS claimed that DOE should have identified this alleged affiliate as a subcontractor and had not properly evaluated whether this putative team member had met the RFP’s requirements for subcontractors.

GAO didn’t see a problem The RFP permitted TBRS, as a newly formed entity, to use the resources of an affiliate. TBRS had expressly disclaimed that it had any plans to use the affiliate as a subcontractor. While NTS had identified instances where the affiliate met the definition of a subcontractor, NTS had not demonstrated that DOE was prohibited from evaluating the proposed affiliate as an affiliate.

NTS is represented by Kenneth B. Weckstein, Andrew C. Crawford, and Shlomo D. Katz of Brown Rudnick LLP. The intervenor, TBRS, is represented by Scott M. McCaleb, Jon W. Burd, Cara L. Lasley, and W. Benjamin Phillips, III of Wiley Rein LLP. The agency is represented by James J. Jurich, Stephanie B. Young, Nicholas Bidwell, Greta Iliev, and Sky Smith of the Department of Energy. GAO attorneys Heather Weiner and Jennifer Westfall-McGrail participated in the preparation of the decision.

–Case summary by Craig LaChance, Senior Editor

GAO - National TRU Solutions