Protester’s Chagrin at Not Receiving a Strength for Its Incumbent Performance Can’t Sustain Protest; Candor Solutions, LLC, GAO B-417950, B-417950.6

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Protest challenging agency’s evaluation of proposals is denied. The protester alleged the agency disparately evaluated its proposal vis-à-vis the awardee. But GAO found the awardee had better explained its approach. The protester complained that its technical rating had not changed after a reevaluation that resulted in fewer weaknesses. GAO, however, found that the weaknesses remaining after the reevaluation still outweighed the strengths and merited the same rating assigned during the initial evaluation. The protester complained that it had not received strengths for its incumbent past performance. GAO reasoned that a protester’s disbelief in the agency’s past performance evaluation doesn’t prove that the evaluation was unreasonable.

The Department of State issued an solicitation to small business holders of an NIH information technology IDIQ contract. The solicitation sought to award a task order for a variety of information technology support and instructions systems design and development. Following a couple rounds of awards, protests, and corrective actions, the agency awarded the task order to Systems Plus, Inc. An unsuccessful offeror, Candor Solutions, protested.

Candor alleged that the agency disparately evaluated proposals under the solicitation’s staffing capabilities factor. Candor noted that Systems Plus had received strengths for its staffing approach. Candor contended that it had proposed the same procedures, tools, and approach as Systems Plus and thus should have also received the same number of strengths.

GAO noted that while Candor and System’s Plus staffing approaches were similar, Systems Plus’s proposal included additional explanations and features. In particular, it provided a clear and specific explanation of how the tools would be applied. Candor, on the other hand, did not elaborate on how its tools worked together or how its approach would benefit the government.

Candor objected to the assessment of a weakness to its proposal for basing its proposed compensation on historic rates instead of explaining how its compensation was consistent with the duties of each labor category. Candor claimed the evaluators ignored its proposal, which stated explicitly that the company was not simply relying on historic rates. But GAO found that Candor had not submitted a well-written proposal that clearly explained how its compensation aligned with the duties of the required labor categories.

Candor contended that the agency disparately evaluated its proposed compensation because Systems Plus had also relied on historic rates but did not receive a weakness. GAO, however, reasoned that unlike Candor, Systems Plus did not used the historic rates as a starting point.

Candor further complained that its technical rating did not change between evaluations. Candor alleged that following a corrective action and reevaluation, the evaluators assessed five fewer weaknesses to its technical approach. But even after the reduction of those weaknesses, Candor’s technical rating did not improve. Candor asserted that after the reevaluation its rating should have gone up from fair to acceptable.

GAO opined that the ratings assigned to Candor’s proposal under the original evaluation are not relevant to the reevaluation. The mere fact that the agency identified fewer weaknesses in the reevaluation does not require the agency to assign a higher rating. GAO is not concerned whether final ratings are consistent with earlier ratings; rather, the concern is whether the ratings reflect the merits of the proposal. Moreover, GAO rejects protests that seek a mathematical or mechanical consideration of weaknesses. Ratings are merely guides for intelligent decision making. The record showed that the evaluators found during the reevaluation that Candor’s weaknesses outweighed the impact of its strengths. Candor’s arguments amounted to disagreement with the agency’s evaluation conclusions.

Candor argued that Systems Plus should have received a lower past performance rating because the company lacked experience working on contracts the same size as the effort contemplated under the solicitation. But GAO found that the agency had reasonably determined that Systems Plus had submitted two past performance references of comparable size. One had 160 employees as compared to the 159 employees estimated in the solicitation. The other was valued at $19 million, which was close to the estimated value of the task order. GAO saw no reason to object to the evaluation of Systems Plus’s past performance.

Candor also asserted that the agency erred in failing to assess strengths to its past performance rating. Candor argued that its proposed subcontractor was working on the incumbent contract and that any reasonable evaluation of past performance would have recognized that the Candor team had extensive experience.

GAO reasoned that there is no requirement that an incumbent be given extra credit for its status as in incumbent. The evaluators recognized that Candor’s proposed subcontractor had experience performing the required work, it simply did not find that this resulted in strengths that exceeded the solicitation’s requirements. Candor’s disbelief that the evaluators didn’t assess a strength for its past performance is not enough to establish that the evaluation was unreasonable.

Candor is represented by Jon D. Levin, W. Brad English, Emily J. Chancey, Michael W. Rich, and J. Dale Gipson of Maynard Cooper & Gale PC. The intervenor, Systems Plus, is represented by Richard B. Oliver and J. Matthew Carter of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP. The agency is represented by Tudo N. Pham of the Department of State. GAO attorneys Heather Self and Peter H. Tran participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - Candor Solutions