Offeror’s Failure to Respond to Agency’s Discussions Letter Results in Rejection of Proposal; Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics, GAO B-418946

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Protest challenging the agency’s conduct of discussions is denied. The agency sent a discussion letter to the protester, but the protester never responded to the letter. The agency assumed the protester had withdrawn its proposal and thus did not consider the proposal for award. The protester claimed that it never received the discussions letter. The agency emailed the letter to the point of contact identified in the protesters’ proposal. That person, however, was on leave when the letter was sent. The protester asserted that the agency should have received an out-of-office notification from this employee and, as a result, should have contacted another person at the company. GAO found that the agency never received an out-of-office notification and thus had no obligation to email the discussions letter to another employee.

The Navy published a solicitation seeking two chemistry/immunoassay laboratory analyzer systems and one laboratory automations system. The Navy received quotes from five vendors, including Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics. The Navy opened discussions with all vendors. The Navy did not receive a response to the discussions letter sent to Ortho, but it received revised quotes from the all the other offerors. The Navy assumed that Ortho had removed itself from the competition and did not consider Ortho for the contract. Following award to another offeror, Ortho protested.

Ortho first challenged the agency’s evaluation. The agency had conducted discussions with Ortho because it found that the company’s quote did not meet the requirements of the RFQ. Ortho claimed that the Navy did not need to conduct discussions because its proposal satisfied all the requirements.

GAO found this argument unpersuasive. The RFQ required offerors to provide sufficient documentation to enable the Navy to determine whether the proposed analyzers met essential characteristics identified in the solicitation. But for many of the characteristics, Ortho had simply stated that it met the requirements and provided no documentation to support these statements. The Navy’s decision to issue a discussions letter was reasonable.

Next, Ortho claimed that it never received a discussions. Ortho’s proposal had identified the company’s contract manager as the point of contact. The agency had emailed this contractor manager the discussions letter. But at the time the Navy emailed the discussions letter, the contract manager was on leave. Ortho claimed that the agency should have received an automatic “out-of-office” notification from the contract manager’s email and thus should have sent the discussions to another employee.

GAO found the Navy’s conduct of discussions reasonable. The Navy emailed the point of contact identified in the proposal and never received any response. While Ortho maintained that an out-of-office notification should have been sent, the record does not contain any record that such a notification was sent to the agency. There was no indication that the Navy knew the discussions letter failed to reach Ortho, so there was no reason for the agency to contact other employees.

Ortho is represented by DeAnna Scarfone of Orth-Clinical Diagnostics. The agency is represented by Aimee Rider and Julia P. Hatch of the Navy. GAO attorneys John Sorrenti and Christina Sklarew participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO -Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics