When Is It Appropriate to Use an LPTA Source Selection?

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The protester challenged the agency’s decision to use a lowest-price, technically acceptable (LPTA) methodology in awarding task orders. The protester argued the agency hadn’t satisfied FAR 15.101-2(c), which sets forth the criteria an agency must satisfy when using LPTA procedures. GAO, however, found the agency had satisfied the criteria. The solicitation set forth minimum requirements, and the agency had reasonably determined that it would derive only minimal benefit from proposals that exceeded those minimum requirements.

Brainerd Helicopters, Inc. d/b/a Firehawk Helicopters, Inc., GAO B-420960 et al.

Background

The Forest Service issued three RFPs seeking helicopter services for wildland fire management. Each RFP contemplated award of an IDIQ contract. The RFPs provided that orders issued under the IDIQs would be awarded on a LPTA basis.

Firehawk Helicopters filed a protest challenging the terms of the RFPs. Firehawk argued that awarding orders an LPTA basis wasn’t appropriate because the RFPs failed to set forth uniform requirements for the variety of helicopters sought by the agency.

Analysis

Minimum Requirements

FAR 15.101-2(c) sets forth criteria that must be satisfied before an agency can make award on an LPTA basis. One criterion requires that the agency clearly describe its minimum requirements and the standards that will be used to determine the acceptability of offers. Firehawk contended the RFPs did not satisfy this requirement because they required offered helicopters to comply with the manufacturer’s requirements, which vary greatly. Thus, instead of setting forth a clear minimum requirement, Firehawk argued, the RFPs defined different minimum standards for different helicopters.

GAO, however, found that the agency had sufficiently described its minimum helicopter requirements. The Forest Service had separated the requirement into three RFPs, each for different types of helicopter services. Each RFP included an extensive list of specifications, including maintenance criteria and payload specifications. While proposed helicopters may have been subject to different technical requirements, the RFPs had clearly set forth the minimum requirements.

Value In Exceeding Minimum Requirements

FAR 15.101-2(c) also requires that before using LPTA procedures an agency must ensure that it would realize no, or minimal, value from a proposal that exceeds minimal technical requirements. Firehawk alleged the Forest Service had not met this criterion. Firehawk reasoned that due to the safety risks inherent in helicopter services, the agency would clearly benefit from a contract that exceeded the minimum requirements. In particular, Firehawk argued, the agency would benefit from additional payload capabilities, a safety management system, and by more favorable past performance.

But GAO found that the Forest Service had considered additional payload, safety requirements, and past performance and reasonably concluded that these factors would not provide more than minimal additional value.

Price Evaluation

Firehawk alleged the Forest Service’s evaluation method would not allow the agency to assess key factors comprising an offeror’s total price. Firehawk was worried that the agency would only compare hourly rates and used the lowest hourly rate as the basis for award, instead of using the lowest evaluated price.

But GAO found that the RFPs set forth a reasonable method to assess the costs of performance. The RFPs took into account the types of helicopters procured and factored in additional relevant price components. GAO found that Firehawk was merely speculating as to what other components could impact price without explaining how they would impact price.

Firehawk is represented by Kevin R. Garden of the Garden Law Firm. The agency is represented by Tyler Ellis of the Department of Agriculture. GAO attorneys Kasia Dourney and Alexander O. Levine participated in the preparation of the decision.

–Case summary by Craig LaChance, Senior Editor

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