It’s All Good: No OCI Even Though Awardee Proposed Agency Employee as a Key Person; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., GAO B-418125 et al.

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Protest challenging agency’s past performance evaluation, cost analysis, OCI investigation, and best value tradeoff is denied. The protester alleged the agency erred in allowing the awardee to rely on the past performance of a recently acquired affiliate. But the solicitation did not prohibit offerors from relying on affiliates, and the awardee adequately explained how the affiliate would be involved in performance of the new contract. The protester alleged the agency gave too much weight to CLINs in evaluating price. GAO, however, found that the agency reasonably found that these CLINs offered savings. The protester claimed the awardee had an OCI because it proposed an agency employee as a key person. GAO found that  the agency had conducted a reasonable OCI investigation and found that the individual did not have access to non-public information. Finally, although, the protester had a lower price, the agency reasonably conducted a tradeoff in selecting the awardee.

The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a request for quotes, seeking to establish a blanket purchasing order for support services to transform the Veterans Health Administration into a High Reliability Organization—that is, an organization that can operate in hazardous domain without serious accidents or catastrophes. Five offerors, including Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) and Cognosante, submitted quotes. Following an evaluation, the VA established a BPA and placed an initial order with Cognosante. BAH protested, objecting to past performance evaluation, the cost analysis, and the best value tradeoff. BAH also asserted that Cognosante had an organizational conflict of interest.

BAH contended that the VA erred in evaluating Cognosante’s past performance because it credited Cognosante for the performance of recently acquired affiliate even though Cognosante’s quote failed to explain whether the affiliate would be involved in performance of the current contract. GAO dismissed this argument. Nothing in the RFQ prohibited offerors from relying on the past performance an affiliate. Moreover, Cognosante’s quote adequately set forth that it had obtained 100% ownership of the affiliate, and that it intended to use the affiliate’s former principal in a key position.

Next BAH alleged that the VA erred in finding that Cognosante had a price advantage even though BAH had the lower evaluated price. More specifically, BAH asserted that the VA overweighed the importance of fixed priced CLINs in Cognosante’s proposed first order to predict savings on future orders. GAO, however, did not find an error. The RFQ stated that the VA might simultaneously establish a BPA and a call order under the BPA. The VA reasonably concluded that Cognosante’s proposed CLINs offered significant savings.

BAH also contended that the VA failed to conduct a meaningful investigation of a potential OCI. Congnosante had proposed a VA employee as one of its key personnel. The VA had determined this did not present a conflict problem.

GAO agreed with the VA. The person in question worked for a VA medical facility that was not connected to the VA office that developed the RFQ requirement. Additionally, the contracting officer had interviewed the program manager from the office that developed the RFQ as well the evaluators. The did not know the person Cognosante proposed and avowed that she had not contributed to the development of the RFQ. The contracting officer reasonably determined that the proposed key person had no access to or knowledge of non-public procurement information. There was no indication this person had provided Cognosante with a competitive advantage.

Finally, BAH complained the best value tradeoff was flawed because both companies were technically equal, but BAH had submitted a lower-priced proposal. Although BAH and Cognosante had identical adjectival ratings, GAO pointed out that the ratings did not present the full factual picture. The VA reasonably found that Cognosante offered numerous price benefits—including unmatched key personnel and a predictive model— that justified its 12% price premium.

BAH is represented by Jason A. Carey, Kayleigh M. Scalzo, and Peter B. Terenzio III of Covington & Burling LLP. The intervenor, Cognosante, is represented by Alexander B. Ginsberg, Meghan D. Doherty, and Aaron S. Ralph of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The agency is represented by Jason A. M. Fragoso, and Vanessa L. Calabrese of the Department of Veterans Affairs. GAO attorneys Kasia Dourney and Christina Sklarew participated in the preparation of the decision.

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