Protester Had Some Tangential Experience Related to the Required Experience. Did the Protester Deserve a Weakness Under the Experience Factor?

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The protester challenged a weakness it received under the solicitation’s experience factor for lacking a specific type of construction experience. While the protester lacked the specific, required experience, the protester contended it had worked on other projects that had elements of the required experience, so the weakness was unwarranted. GAO was not convinced, reasoning that mere tangential experience in some elements of the required experience does not cut it. The weakness was justified.

Coastal Environmental Group, Inc., GAO B-420390.2, B-420390.3

Background

The Army Corps of Engineers issued an RFP seeking environmental remediation services. The RFP contemplated award of multiple IDIQ contracts. The agency received several proposals, including one from Coastal Environmental Group. The Corps determined that Coastal’s proposal was untimely and refused to consider it. After the Corps awarded contracts, Coastal protested challenging the rejection of its proposal.

In response to the protest, the Corps took corrective action and considered Coastal’s proposal. But the Corps determined that Coastal’s proposal did not represent the best value. The other awardees had significant advantages over Coastal under the solicitation’s experience factor. Coastal protested again.

Analysis

Weakness Under Experience Factor

Coastal objected to a weakness it received under the experience factor for failing to demonstrate construction of groundwater treatment plants and extraction well systems. Coastal acknowledged that it lacked specific experience with groundwater treatment plants and extraction wells. Nevertheless, Coastal argued that its proposal reflected some elements of experience that were directly relevant to that type of construction.

GAO did not find this argument compelling. While Coastal may have believed that its past projects included some tangentially related elements relevant to the required experience, that was not the equivalent of demonstrating the specific required experience. The weakness was warranted.

Latent Ambiguity

The RFP stated that offerors should submit CAGE codes and DUNS numbers that the agency would use to access past performance information in CPARS. Coastal submitted identifying information, but the Corps did not find any relevant CPARS for those numbers. It turned out that CPARS only retained performance evaluations for three years. Coastal’s projects had been projects outside of this three-year window. 

Coastal alleged the RFP contained a latent ambiguity. Coastal argued the solicitation could be read as requiring the Corps to retrieve all CPARS within a ten year window. But the RFP was ambiguous because the agency could not access CPARS from more than three years ago.

GAO rejected this argument. The plain language of the RFP didn’t require the Corps to obtain any CPARS for an offeror. Nowhere did the solicitation express an intent to retrieve CPARS for all an offeor’s projects. In GAO’s view, the protester’s ambiguity argument simply reflected a lack of understanding of the CPARS system. While Coastal may have been unaware of the retention time for CPARS, that did not give rise to a latent ambiguity.

Coastal is represented by Aron C. Beezley, Sarah S. Osborne, and Gabrielle A. Spiro of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP. The agency is represented by Jennifer G. Meyer and Alexandria P. Tramel of the Army. GAO attorneys Michael P. Grogan and Evan D. Wesser participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO-Coastal Environmental