Solicitation Precluded Consideration of Subcontractor References for Past Performance, but Not Corporate Experience; GAO B-417133, Interactive Government Holdings Inc.

Protest alleging the agency failed to conduct a required price realism analysis is denied, where the solicitation language cited by the protester appeared in the proposal submission instructions, not the evaluation criteria, and no other provision in the solicitation contemplated a price realism evaluation. GAO also denied a challenge to the technical evaluation, finding that the solicitation did not preclude offerors from relying on their subcontractors to demonstrate corporate experience, even though subcontractor references would not be considered in the past performance evaluation.

Interactive Government Holdings Inc. protested the Defense Human Resources Agency’s award of a contract for personnel and administrative support services to A-Team Solutions Inc., challenging the evaluation of the awardee’s proposal.

IGH primarily argued that the agency unreasonably evaluated A-Team’s proposal because its proposed price was so low that it represented a risk of unsuccessful performance. IGH argued the agency should have realized that A-Team’s low price would have precluded it from recruiting and retaining qualified staff or providing transition services.

Generally, the protester argued the agency failed to conduct a price realism evaluation, which GAO found was not contemplated nor required by the solicitation. IGH argued that the solicitation did include such a requirement, citing language that said the agency would evaluation proposed prices “to determine if the estimate is adequate, complete, and reasonable to assess the offeror’s understanding of the solicitation.” However, GAO noted this language was part of the proposal submission instructions, not part of the evaluation criteria. As such, it did not bind the agency to conducting a price realism analysis.

Even if this language were part of the evaluation criteria, because an assessment of whether prices are complete, adequate, and reasonable concerns whether the proposed prices are mathematically correct, responsive to the price schedule, and not too high. In contrast, a price realism evaluation considers whether the proposed prices are so low as to reflect a lack of technical understanding.

Next, IGH argued that A-Team lacks the technical capability to perform the solicitation’s requirements because it has no experience managing a large network of volunteers as required. According to IGH, the solicitation precluded offerors from relying on their subcontractors’ experience in order to demonstrate technical capability, yet A-Team did so. However, GAO disagreed that the solicitation precluded offerors from relying on the experience of their subcontractors. GAO noted that subcontractors’ references would not be considered in the past performance evaluation, but found no similar prohibition on offerors using subcontractors to demonstrate technical capability.

The protester also argued the agency unreasonably failed to assign a weakness to A-Team’s proposal because A-Team did not explain how it would provide training as required by the PWS. GAO rejected this argument as general disagreement with the agency’s judgment. While the protester argued A-Team merely parroted the requirements, its disagreement with the agency’s findings provided no basis to sustain the protest.

Next, IGH argued that one of A-Team’s past performance references was unreasonably assigned a very relevant rating because it was for a lower dollar value than the procurement. However, GAO found the solicitation stated the agency would consider numerous factors when determining relevance, and therefore found nothing objectionable about a very relevant rating simply because the reference contract was valued less than the current requirement. The record showed that A-Team’s disputed past performance reference involved work that was virtually identical in terms of services, complexity, contract type, and key personnel, even though its dollar value was less than half the current requirement. Accordingly, GAO found the evaluation reasonable.

Interactive Government Holdings Inc is represented by Antonio R. Franco, Kathryn V. Flood, Jacqueline K. Unger, and Emily J. Rouleau of PilieroMazza PLLC. A-Team Solutions is represented by Craig J. Berk, The Berk Law Firm, LLC. The government is represented by Hattie Russell DuBois and William C. Moorhouse, Defense Human Resources Activity. GAO attorneys Todd C. Culliton and Tania Calhoun participated in the preparation of the decision.