“I’m Kind of a Big Deal . . . I Have Many Leather-Bound Books and my Apartment Smells of Rich Mahogany”: Key Person’s Impressive, Credentialed Background Did Not Merit a Significant Strength; Navarro Research and Engineering, Inc., GAO B-418602.2, B-418602.5

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Protest challenging the agency’s evaluation under various non-price factors is denied. The protester argued that it should have received significant strengths for its technical and management approaches. GAO found that additional strengths were not warranted. For instance, the protester asserted it should have received a significant strength for proposing a highly-credentialed manager. While the manager’s background was impressive, nothing in the solicitation required the agency to assign a strength for a high-achieving key person. The protester also alleged that the agency had disparately evaluated proposals. But the protester had not demonstrated that the agency applied a different evaluation standard to the awardee.

The Department of Energy (DOE) issued a solicitation seeking support for the agency’s Office of Legacy Management, which conducts nuclear and chemical weapon post closures. Navarro Research and Engineering, Inc. and RSI EnTech LLC, among others, submitted proposals. DOE awarded the contract to RSI. Although RSI and Navarro had identical adjectival ratings on the non-price factors, DOE determined that RSI’s proposal was more advantageous than Navarro’s. What’s more, RSI’s price was significantly lower than Navarro’s. Navarro protested, challenging various aspects of DOE’s evaluation.

Navarro first argued that DOE should have assessed more strengths to its proposal under the solicitation’s technical and capabilities factor. But GAO found no reason to object to the evaluation. The record showed that DOE reviewed all aspects of Navarro’s technical and capabilities approach. It noted that Navarro’s key personnel were very experienced, and that the company’s approach would increase productivity and efficiency.

While Navarro argued that many aspects of its technical and capabilities approach warranted additional strengths, GAO found that the company had not demonstrated how these aspects would provide additional benefit. For example, Navarro contended that one of its key personnel should have been assigned a significant strength because they had received a Presidential award, managed many relevant contracts, and had experience managing the incumbent contract. GAO found this background impressive, but reasoned that the solicitation did not require DOE to assign a significant strength for an individual’s notable achievements.

Navarro also argued that the evaluation deviated from the proposal preparation instructions because DOE did not evaluate how similar personnel and experience compared to the instant procurement. GAO found this argument unpersuasive. The instructions only directed offerors to demonstrate experience in a similar environment; it did not establish that the degree of similarity would result in a higher rating. Moreover, GAO noted, Navarro’s complaint concerned solicitation instructions. Information requirements in solicitation instructions are not the same as evaluation criteria. Instructions provide guidance to assist offerors in preparing their proposals — they do not establish evaluation requirements.

Navarro further contended DOE disparately evaluated proposals because its quality control plan was not rated as high as RSI’s even though both plans contained the same attributes. But GAO found that the plans were not the same. RSI’s plan better described how it would implement DOE’s quality assurance criteria.

Next, Navarro argued that its management approach should have received a significant strength instead on a mere strength because, as the incumbent, Navarro offered a proven organizational structure. GAO found that Navarro simply disagreed with the agency’s judgment regarding the value of the company’s experience, and that this, without more, was not enough to sustain a protest.

Navarro also argued that DOE disparately evaluated offerors under the management approach by unfairly equating Navarro’s organizational structure with RSI’s even though Navarro’s structure was proven while RSI’s was not. The solicitation, however, did not specifically state that incumbent experience had to be evaluated as reflecting a less risky management approach.

Navarro complained that RSI received a strength for planning to recruit Navarro’s incumbent personnel, while the protester did not receive a strength for already having the incumbent personnel. Not so, said GAO. Contrary to its assertions, Navarro had actually received a strength for having recruited the incumbent workforce.

Additionally, GAO did not believe DOE had unequally evaluated Navarro’s recruitment strategies. Navarro claimed that its recruitment strategies were superior to RSI’s and therefore merited a strength. But GAO found that RSI was not assigned a strength for its general recruitment strategies; rather, it had been assigned a strengths for its recruitment strategies for transitioning into contract performance.

Continuing on this theme, Navarro argued that DOE unequally assigned strengths to both its own and RSI’s recruitment plans. Navarro asserted that RSI’s plan did not deserve strengths due to unrealistic compensation plan. GAO, however, found that this argument did not meaningfully allege unequal treatment. The fact that RSI proposed lower labor rates does not explain how DOE evaluated proposals unequally. To successfully allege unequal treatment, Navarro had to show that DOE applied a different evaluation standard that required Navarro to propose higher rates to receive strengths. Absent such a showing, GAO could not find disparate treatment.

Navarro also alleged that DOE unequally evaluated offeror’s teaming approach. GAO wasn’t buying it, finding that Navarro received the highest adjectival rating for its teaming approach. DOE considered multiple features of Navarro’s approach and followed the same process in evaluating RSI’s approach. Indeed, Navarro did not identify any features in RSI’s teaming approach that had been evaluated differently.

Navarro objected to DOE’s evaluation of past performance because the agency only considered five of Navarro’s six past performance questionnaires. But GAO found that the sixth questionnaire was password protected, and, despite multiple attempts, DOE was unable to open it. An agency is only required to make a reasonable effort to contact an offeror’s past performance references. Here, DOE contacted Navarro’s reference several times about the questionnaire and thus made a reasonable effort.

Finally, Navarro asserted numerous challenges to the evaluation of RSI’s proposal. But GAO found that Navarro was not an interested party to challenge RSI’s evaluation. The SSA had determined that Navarro offered the third-best proposal. Thus, even if GAO sustained Navarro’s challenges to RSI’s evaluation, Navarro would not be in line for award.

Navarro is represented by Richard P. Rector, Samuel Knowles, Thomas E. Daley, and Ryan P. Carpenter of DLA Piper LLP (US). The intervenor, RSI, is represented by Damien C. Specht, James A. Tucker, Rachael K. Plymale, and Caitlin A. Crujido of Morrison & Foerster LLP. The agency is represented by Kevin R. Hilferty, Stephanie Villata, James Jurich, Stephanie B. Young, Joshua Turner, and Marianna Lvovsky of the Department of Energy. GAO attorneys Todd C. Culliton and Tania Calhoun participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - Navarro Research and Engineering, Inc.