Protester’s Proposed Personnel Greatly Exceeded RFP’s Experience and Education Requirements, But Agency Found them Overqualified; ICF Incorporated, L.L.C., B-419049.3, B-419049.4

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Protest challenging agency’s evaluation of proposals is denied. The protester alleged the awardee’s proposal did not meet the solicitation’s requirements for security clearances. GAO found that the protester had misinterpreted those requirements. The protester alleged the awardee had pulled off a bait-and-switch with proposed personnel. But GAO determined that the awardee had not misrepresented the availability of personnel, and the agency had not relied on any misrepresentation. The protester asserted that it should have received additional strengths for proposing highly-qualified personnel, but the agency reasonably found they were unnecessarily overqualified. The protester objected to the cost evaluation, but GAO reasoned that the agency had evaluated cost in accordance with the solicitation.

The Army issued a solicitation to holders of GSA’s Alliant II IDIQ contract, seeking development and deployment of capabilities to support DoD’s cyber operations and security. Four offerors submitted proposals. The Army only found that two offerors, ICF Incorporated and Leidos, were eligible for award. The Army selected Leidos for award, finding that its proposal offered a more benefits at a lower cost. ICF protested.

ICF first argued that Leidos’ proposal did not meet the solicitation’s requirements concerning security clearance for key personnel. ICF claimed that the solicitation required all 30 key personnel to hold active top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information security (TS/SCI) clearances no later than the award date. ICF alleged Leidos had proposed 13 individuals who lacked the required security by the time of award.

But GAO found that ICF had misinterpreted the solicitation’s requirements. Offerors were not required to demonstrate security clearance at the time of award. Instead, the solicitation required them to demonstrate TS/SCI eligibility at the time of award so that they could be cleared within 15 to 30 days after award. This meant that offerors had to show that individuals had passed a background investigation and attended required security briefings, but they did not have to possess active clearance at the time of award. Indeed, he Army had clarified this requirement in Q&As with offerors. The Army reasonably understood that the 13 individuals Leidos proposed were eligible for clearance. There was no basis to reject Leidos’ proposal.

Next, ICF alleged that the Army unreasonably credited Leidos with strengths for two of its proposed key personnel. According to ICF, Leidos did not currently employ these individuals and did not intend to provide them. In fact, ICF noted, Leidos’ employment website was currently seeking candidates to fill these positions.

GAO noted that ICF was essentially alleging a bait and switch. To prove a bait and switch, an offeror must show (1) a misrepresentation as to the availability of key personnel, (2) the agency’s reliance on that misrepresentation, and (3) that the reliance materially affected the evaluation.

Here, GAO found that ICF had not established a misrepresentation or agency reliance. The RFP only required submission of representative resumes. The qualification in the representative resumes would then become part of the performance obligations for the duration of the contract. Given the requirement for representative resumes, Leidos’s job posting did not establish that the company made a misrepresentation. What’s more, the Army was expecting only representative resumes, so it did not rely on Leidos’ representations.

ICF contended that it should have received additional strengths for its proposed key personnel. ICF explained that its proposal strategy focused on providing the personnel that exceeded the solicitation’s education and experience requirements, and that its personnel greatly exceeded the requirements.

GAO did not dispute that ICF’s proposed personnel exceeded the solicitation’s requirements. The problem was that they needlessly exceeded the minimum requirement by 450 percent. The Army had reasonably determined that ICF’s personnel were unnecessarily over-qualified. Additional strengths for these personnel were not warranted.

ICF further complained that the Army had assigned its proposal a risk rating of “no worse than moderate.” GAO noted that while the record did not clearly explain the risk rating assigned to ICF, there was no basis to conclude that the company’s overall risk rating precluded it from receiving a higher overall technical rating. The strengths assigned to ICF’s proposal did not merit a different risk rating because those strengths merely reflected an adequate approach and understanding of the requirements.

ICF asserted that the Army disparately evaluated proposals by failing to evaluate whether Leidos could recruit and retain staff while at the same time discounting the fact that ICF had proposed highly-qualified personnel that would be difficult to recruit and retain.

To establish unequal treatment, a protester must show that the differences in ratings did not stem from differences in proposals. In this case, GAO found that there was no real differences in the ratings assigned to ICF and Leidos. The record showed that Leidos had also proposed personnel who exceeded the solicitation’s minimum requirements, but the Army had not assigned Leidos any additional strengths.

ICF objected to the cost evaluation, arguing that the Army had improperly found that ICF’s escalation rates for direct labor were unrealistic. ICF argued that its proposed escalation rates were based on the actual data from the incumbent contract. ICF complained that the Army had unreasonably ignored historical and used the rates provided by a third-party economic forecaster.

GAO saw no problem with this. The solicitation required sufficient documentation to adequately support and explain costs. The Army reasonably concluded that ICF’s proposal did not explain the basis for its escalation rates. Thus, the Army was justified in using rates from a third-party.

ICF further alleged that the Army had failed to assess Leidos’ unrealistically low cost. GAO found that the Army had evaluated Leidos’s cost in accordance with the solicitation. The solicitation expressly allowed the agency to evaluate labor rates using data supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and an offeror’s forward pricing rate recommendation approved by DCMA. The Army evaluated Leidos prices using the BLS data and the pricing rate recommendation. GAO saw no need to question the analysis.

Lastly, ICF alleged that the best value analysis was flawed because the Army had failed to look behind the technical ratings and thus essentially made award on a lowest-cost technically acceptable basis. GAO disagreed, noting that the agency thoroughly considered and compared the underlying support for the technical ratings and the strengths and weaknesses. The agency cited specific examples of the unique attributes in each proposal and discussed why those attributes led to the selection of Leidos.

ICF is represented by Kevin P. Connelly, Kelly E. Buroker, and Jeffrey M. Lowry of Vedder Price PC. The intervenor, Leidos, is represented by J. Scott Hommer, III, Rebecca E. Pearson, Emily A. Unnasch, Christopher G. Griesedieck , and Krista A. Nunez of Venable LLP. The agency is represented by Alexa B. Bryan and Thomas Clark of the Army. GAO attorneys Raymond Richards and Jonathan L. Kang participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - ICF Incorporated