What Does It Really Mean When an Agency Finds Proposals “Essentially Equivalent”?

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The protester objected to the past performance evaluation, arguing the agency failed to recognize differences in performance and instead just found that past performance was “essentially equal.” GAO opined that when an agency finds proposals “essentially equal,” it simply means that overall, there’s no meaningful difference in what they offer – it does not mean that proposals are identical in every respect. Here, the agency understood the advantages of the protester’s past performances, but the agency didn’t think those advantages provided any meaningful benefit. Hence, for what the agency wanted, the proposals were essentially equal.

Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., GAO B-420116.6, B-420116.7


GSA issued a solicitation to holders of the Alliant 2 governmentwide acquisition contract. The solicitation sought to award a task order for information technology services. Three offerors, including Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) and General Dynamics Information Technology, submitted proposals. GSA selected BAH for award.

Following the award, however, GSA discovered that it had not evaluated all of General Dynamics’s proposal. GSA put the post-award debriefing process on hold to reevaluate. After the reevaluation. GSA then awarded the contract to General Dynamics.

BAH filed a protest with GAO. GAO conducted an ADR conference and asvided that it would likely sustain BAH’s challenge to the best value determination. In light of this, GSA took corrective action to conduct a new best-value tradeoff. This new tradeoff again resulted in an award to General Dynamics. GSA found that while BAH’s proposal offered technical advantages, those advantages were not worth the $8 million price premium. BAH filed another protest with GAO.


Technical Evaluation of General Dynamics

BAH contended that in reevaluating after the initial award, GSA had reflexively eliminated weaknesses previously assigned to General Dynamics instead of conducting a meaningful review. GAO was not convinced that GSA reflexively removed weaknesses. GSA had initially assigned weaknesses to General Dynamics because the agency had not reviewed all of the company’s proposal. Once it evaluated the full proposal, it determined that General Dynamics actually satisfied the solicitation’s requirements.

Past Performance

BAH complained that GSA downgraded the relevance of its past performance and conducted misleading discussions concerning past performance when the agency reevaluated proposals. GAO determined that to extent the agency had erred in reevaluating past performance, BAH had not been prejudiced. BAG had received the highest possible past performance rating. No matter what GSA did during the reevaluation , BAH’s rating could not have been any higher.

Best-Value Tradeoff

BAH contended the best-value tradeoff was flawed because GSA failed to make a comparative assessment of proposals. GAO didn’t agree, The award decision recognized that BAH’s proposal offered technical advantages, but it also recognized that General Dynamics’s proposal met the solicitation requirements. GSA simply determined that BAH’s advantage were not worth the price premium.

BAH also argued the SSA improperly discounted BAH’s incumbent experience in finding the proposals were “essentially equal” under the past performance factor. GAO reasoned that a finding that proposals are essentially equal means that overall, there is no meaningful difference in what they offer. It does not mean that proposals are identical in every respect—one may be superior in several areas. Here, the SSA understood the advantages BAH had as an incumbent, but the SSA simply did not think those advantages provided any meaningful benefit. 

BAH is represented by Kayleigh M. Scalzo, Andrew R. Guy, and Anna M. Menzel of Convington & Burling, LLP. The intervenor, General Dynamics, is represented by Noah B. Bleicher, Carla J. Weiss, Moshe B. Broder, and Scott E. Whitman of Jenner & Block, LLP. The agency is represented by Jaron E. Chriss of the General Services Administration. GAO attorneys Sarah T. Zaffina and Jennifer D. Westfall-McGrail participated in the preparation of the decision.

GAO - Booz Allen Hamilton