Protester Claimed Awardee’s Proposed Metrologist Was Unqualified, But Its Arguments Didn’t Measure Up; NLT Management Services, LLC, GAO B-415936.14

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Protester’s request for reconsideration is denied. The protester alleged that in a previous protest, GAO erroneously found the agency’s evaluation of the awardee’s proposed metrology technician reasonable. GAO, however, determined that the protester was reading non-existent requirements into the solicitation. Contrary to the protester’s contentions, the solicitation only required the metrology technician have a high school diploma and some metrology experience. The awardee’s candidate—who had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and experience calibrating lab equipment—satisfied the solicitation’s minimum requirements.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives issued a solicitation seeking forensic and scientific laboratory support services. Six offerors submitted proposals. Only one offeror, MartinFederal Consulting, submitted an acceptable proposal. ATF awarded the contract to MartinFederal. An unsuccessful offeror, NLT Management Services, protested, alleging that ATF misevaluated its own and MartinFederal’s proposals. GAO denied the protest. NLT then requested that GAO reconsider its decision.

The solicitation required offerors to propose a metrology technician. NLT claimed that in its previous decision, GAO failed to consider the specific calibration and metrology work the RFP required of the metrology position. NLT contended that the solicitation required the technician to demonstrate metrology training specific to the work conducted by the ATF’s Fire Research Laboratory. NLT argued that MartinFederal’s metrologist did not set forth the calibration and metrology training specific to the Fire Research Laboratory.

GAO rejected NLT’s contentions. MartinFederal’s metrology candidate had bachelor’s degree in chemistry, had completed metrology course work, and performed work as a lab technician where she maintained instruments and performed calibrations. NLT had not explained how this experience was deficient. Moreover, the solicitation only required the metrologist to have a high school diploma and metrology experience. Contrary to NLT’s contentions, noting the solicitation required that the candidate possess training specific to the ATF’s Fire Research Lab.

Next, NLT argued that the GAO had given undue weight to the contracting officer’s explanations of the source selection rationale. NLT alleged that (1) the contracting officer’s explanations were post hoc rationalizations, and (2) the contracting officer was not capable of making a reasonable determination because she lacked technical expertise.

As to the post hoc rationalization argument, GAO noted that it does not limit its review to contemporaneous evidence, but considers all information provided, including a party’s arguments and explanations. In particular , GAO will consider post-protest explanations that provide a detailed rationale for contemporaneous conclusions. Here, the contracting officers statements were nothing more than post-protest explanations of the contemporaneous conclusions.

With regard to the contracting officer’s technical expertise, nothing in the solicitation or any procurement statute requires a contracting officer to have a particular level of technical expertise. Additionally, selection officials have broad discretion in determining the manner and extent to which they will make use of an evaluation.

Finally, NLT asserted that GAO had erred in finding that the agency effectively waived the training the requirements for MartinFederal’s metrologist. GAO, however, did not waive the requirements. MartinFederal’s proposal had referred to a “metrology technician” instead of specifically identifying the position as “metrology technician II.” GAO simply found that the omission of the “II” was a minor clerical error that did not amount to a technical deficiency.

NLT is represented by Sean D. Forbes and Bryant S. Banes of Neel, Hooper & Banes, PC. The intervenor, MartinFederal, is represented by Aron C. Beezley, Patrick R. Quigley, Sarah S. Osborne, Lisa A. Markman, and Nathaniel J. Greeson of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP. The agency is represented by Angela R. Williams of the Department of Justice. GAO attorneys Young H. Cho and Peter H. Tran participated in the preparation of the decision.

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