Offeror’s Failure to Discuss Solicitation Requirements in the Proper Portion of Its Proposal Results in Deficiency; Management Systems International, Inc. and Blumont Engineering Solutions, Inc., GAO B-418080 et al.

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Protests challenging deficiencies and weaknesses assigned to the protesters’ proposals are denied. One of the protester’s argued that it should not have been assigned a deficiency for not discussing required information in the background section of its proposal because it had discussed the information in another part of the proposal. But GAO found that the solicitation specifically required offerors to discuss the information in the background section of their proposals. The failure to do so was thus a failure to satisfy a material requirement. Another protester argued that the agency had misinterpreted its proposal as relying on unpaid volunteers. GAO, however, found that the protester had stated that it intended to rely on “volunteers.” The agency was entitled to assume that this meant the protester would not be paying the volunteers.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) issued a solicitation for an IDIQ contract to provide various economic and community development projects in Iraq. USAID awarded the IDIQ to Chemonics International, Inc. Two unsuccessful offerors, Management System International (MSI) and Blumont Engineering Solutions, filed protests, challenging deficiencies and significant weaknesses assigned to their proposals.

Blumont challenged a deficiency it received for failing to discuss critical assumptions and implementation challenges in the background section of its proposal. Blumont conceded that it did not discuss assumptions and implementation challenges in the background section, but it addressed those issues in other parts of the proposal. The failure to address these issues in the background section, Blumont contended, was simply a minor deviation not a deficiency in its proposal.

GAO disagreed with Blumont’s assessment. The solicitation specifically advised offerors that they had to include critical assumptions and implementation constraints in the background section of their proposal. Blumont’s failure to address these issues in the background section amounted to a failure to meet a material requirement of the solicitation. The misplacement of these discussions was therefore a deficiency, not a minor deviation.

MSI objected to a deficiency assigned to its proposed management approach where USAID had found that the company proposed to rely on unpaid volunteers to collect critical data. MIS contended that the agency had misinterpreted its approach to “train and employ youth and other community volunteers” as indicating that the company would use unpaid volunteers. MSI argued that the agency should have known from use of the word “employ” that the company planned to pay its data collectors. Moreover, MSI alleged, USAID should have noted that the company’s cost proposal accounted for funding to pay the data collectors.

But GAO found that the USAID reasonably interpreted the use of the word “volunteer” as referring to a person that would not be paid. MSI acted at its own peril in when choosing not to adequately explain its technical approach. Moreover, USAID was not required to piece together disparate parts of MSI’s proposal to figure out of the data collectors were actually volunteers.

Still, MSI argued that this mistake was trivial and that the assessment of a deficiency for this flaw was disproportionate. GAO determined that USAID reasonably concluded that reliance on unpaid volunteers who are not offered the same incentives as paid employees could create a performance risk, which warranted the assessment of a deficiency.

Blumont contended that before finding the company ineligible for award, USAID should have conducted to discussions to resolve some of the identified deficiencies. GAO noted that when, as in this case, a solicitation advises offerors that the agency intends to make award without discussions, there is no requirement that an agency initiate discussions.

Although Blumont and MSI challenged other deficiencies assessed to their proposals, GAO found it unnecessary to address those arguments. Given that each company had been properly assessed at one deficiency, they were both ineligible and thus lacked standing to challenge the other deficiencies and weaknesses.

MSI is represented by Robert Nichols and Andrew Victor of Nichols Liu LLP. Blumont is represented by David T. Ralston, Jr., Frank S. Murray, Julia Di Vito, and Micah T. Zomer of Foley & Lardner LLP. The intervenor, Chemonics, is represented by Kelly E. Buroker, Jeffrey M. Lowry, and Tamara Droubi of Vedder Price PC as well as Eric J. Marcotte of the Law Office of Eric J. Marcotte. The agency is represented by John B. Alumbaugh of the U.S. Agency for International Development. GAO attorneys Lois Hanshaw and Amy B. Pereira participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - Management Systems International