SSA Reasonably Downgraded Rating Assessed by Technical Evaluators; Amaze Technologies, LLC, GAO B-418949 et al.

21

Protest challenging agency’s evaluation of protester’s experience and past performance is denied. The protester alleged the SSA failed to document his disagreement with a rating assigned by the evaluators under the solicitation’s experience factor. GAO, however, found that the SSA’s decision adequately explained why the SSA downgraded the rating assigned by the evaluators; the protester was joint venture in which neither the entity itself nor the constituent partners had a lot of experience. The protester also asserted that the agency disparately evaluated the company’s past performance vis-à-vis the awardee. But GAO found no disparate treatment; the awardee simply had higher quality past performance than the protester.

The General Services Administration issued a solicitation seeking acquisition support services for the Air Force. The competition was limited to companies holding a One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services Small Business Pool 1 IDIQ contract, which are multiple award contracts GSA awards to small businesses.

Amaze Technologies, LLC and Karthik Consulting, Inc., among others, submitted proposals. The agency awarded the contract to Karthik finding that its proposal represented the best value. Amaze protested.

Amaze complained the source selection authority improperly changed the satisfactory rating the technical evaluation team assigned to its proposal under the relevant experience factor to marginal without justification. Essentially, Amaze argued, the SSA reached a different result without explaining why the technical evaluators were wrong.

SSAs are not bound by the evaluation judgments of lower level evaluators and may come to their own reasonable. When an SSA disagrees with the evaluators, they must adequately document their independent judgment. Here, while the SSA did not specifically state why he disagreed with the evaluators, it was clear from the source selection decision that he did not believe the evaluators had properly considered Amaze’s experience. Amaze was a joint venture that did not have any independent relevant experience. As a result, the SSA determined that it was necessary to evaluate the experience of each joint venture partner. One of the partners did not have any experience. The other had only one relevant project. Given these facts, GAO found that the SSA had reasonably disagreed with the evaluators and explained his disagreement.

Amaze also contended that the agency had erred in not considering the past performance and experience of each joint venture partner as the experience and past performance of the joint venture itself. In other words, Amaze alleged, the separate experience of each joint venturer is the experience of the joint venture itself.

SBA regulations require that when evaluating a joint venture, agencies should consider the work done individually by each partner. But GAO noted that the regulation did not specifically address the relative consideration that must be given to the performance of a large business mentor in a mentor-protégé joint venture. In this case, Amaze was a mentor-protégé joint venture. GAO found that the agency properly considered the experience and past performance of both joint venture partners. Amaze itself only submitted one recent and relevant project performed by the large business mentor and none from the protégé. The agency was not required to give this one project special weight for the entire joint venture.

Next, Amaze contended that agency disparately evaluated the company under the past performance factor. Specifically, Amaze asserted that like the awardee, Karthik, it had submitted one recent and relevant past performance example. But Karthik was rated as excellent under the past performance factor while Amaze was only rated satisfactory. GAO, however, found no disparate treatment. The CPARS for Karthik’s reference were excellent. Amaze, however, had staffing issues with its past performance reference.

Lastly, Amaze asserted that the agency failed to adhere to the solicitations’ evaluation criteria. The solicitation required offerors to submit at least one example of recent and relevant experience. Amaze argued that it had submitted one relevant example and should have received the highest possible rating. Amaze contended that it known the agency would assign higher ratings only where the offeror provided more than one relevant example, it would have submitted more examples.

But GAO found that the agency had not ignored the criteria. One relevant experience example was the minimum required. The solicitation expressly stated that providing more than one experience example would be treated more favorably.

Amaze is represented by Shane M. McCall of Koprince Law. The intervenor, Karthik, is represented by Thomas Craig, Emily Spence, and Marlena Ewald of FH+H PLLC. The agency is represented by Leigh Ann Bunetta of the Federal Acquisition Service. GAO attorneys Mary G. Curcio and Laura Eyester participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO-Amaze Technologies