No Evidence Agency Considered Whether Awardee’s Key Individual Could Perform At Proposed Labor Hours; GAO B-416728, Barbaricum LLC

Protest challenging the agency evaluation of the awardee’s proposed program manager is sustained, where the record contained no evidence the agency considered whether the individual would be able to meet the requirements based on the number of proposed labor hours, which were significantly lower than the IGCE. GAO also found the agency’s evaluation of the awardee’s staffing plan contained only cursory statements regarding the proposal, rather than the robust examination contemplated by the solicitation. GAO denied a challenge to the price evaluation and found the agency had not engaged in disparate discussions when it asked the awardee to clarify a minor technical error in its price proposal.

Barbaricum LLC protested the Air Force’s award of a task order for opinion research support services to Fors Marsh Group, challenging the evaluation of price and technical quotations, and the agency’s conduct of discussions.

First, Barbaricum challenged the price evaluation, arguing the agency should have used the total cost on attachment 5 of Barbaricum’s quotation, rather than the sum of the CLINs identified in attachment 2. According to the protester, because labor is the driver for price evaluation purposes, a correct evaluation would have determined Barbaricum offered a lower price than what the agency calculated.

However, GAO disagreed, finding no rational basis for the agency to consider only the pricing information in attachment 5—labor category, hours, and fully burdened labor rates—while ignoring the information in attachment 2, which included CLINs for labor, deliverables, and travel for the base and option years.

Next, the protester argued the agency engaged in discussions with the awardee regarding its labor cost without opening discussions to every offeror. In an email to the awardee, the agency noted the labor cost for the base year was different on the two price attachments. The agency asked FMG to clarify which was the correct price and the awardee responded with a corrected price sheet. Barbaricum argued this exchange constituted discussions. However, GAO disagreed, noting that the difference between the two prices was less than two-tenths of one percent. The agency knew that one of the prices was correct and merely required a clarification. Further, the awardee’s total price remained lower than the protester’s regardless of which price was used.

Finally, Barbaricum argued the agency failed to consider whether the awardee’s proposed program manager/SME hours were sufficient to perform the solicitation’s requirements. According to Barbaricum, the awardee’s proposed hours were significantly less than the estimated hours in the IGCE. The protester argued the record showed no evidence the agency considered the program manager/SME’s ability to perform based on the proposed hours per week or how the individual could be expected to be on immediate call given the low number of hours.

GAO agreed, finding nothing in the evaluation to show the agency considered FMG’s quoted labor hours for acceptability. The agency argued that the IGCE labor hours were based on the current contract, but GAO noted the awardee’s labor hours were purported to reflect the current level of effort. GAO found the agency did not address the disparity between the IGCE and the awardee’s proposed hours. The solicitation provided that the program manager/SME would be significantly involved in performance and required to be reachable on fairly short notice. Given the critical role of this individual, GAO found the agency’s failure to consider the number of proposed hours for the position to be unreasonable, as well as evidence of disparate treatment.

Further, GAO found the agency did not perform the type of comprehensive evaluation of the awardee’s staffing plan that was contemplated in the solicitation. The RFQ required vendors to provide detailed staffing plans, but the evaluation included only cursory statements about the awardee’s proposed mix of personnel and their experience, rather than an examination of the specific requirements in the solicitation. Accordingly, GAO sustained the protest on this basis.

Barbaricum LLC is represented by David Y. Yang and Alix K. Town of Oles Morrison Rinker & Baker, LLP. The government is represented by Jason R. Smith, Department of the Air Force. GAO attorneys Kenneth Kilgour and Jennifer D. Westfall-McGrail participated in the preparation of the decision.