As the government has expanded its uses of Contracting by Negotiation through the issuance of RFPs ("Requests for Proposals"), as opposed to Sealed Bidding and the issuance of IFBs ("Invitations for Bid"), contractors have had to adapt to this new way of doing business.  All too often, a perfectly capable contractor is not selected for award, even though its price was the lower than its competitors, because it failed to adequately address the evaluation factors listed in the solicitation.  A recent decision by the GAO in the Matter of Capitol Drywall Supply, Inc. ("CDS"), decided on January 12, 2009, highlights the difficulty that a contractor faces when the agency and the GAO conclude that a proposal misses the mark.

The proposal by CDS was one of six submitted to the Corps of Engineers, and was the second lowest in price.  The problem, however, was that CDS was rated as the lowest on the technical merit evaluation factor due, primarily, to a lack of detailed information describing the firm’s proposed procedures to perform the statement of work requirements, as well as a failure to demonstrate experience performing contracts similar in size, scope, and complexity, and which were valued at $1 million or more.  Finding that the lowest-priced and third lowest-priced proposals, which received significantly higher technical ratings than the CDS’ proposal, represented the best value to the agency, awards were made to those firms; with respect to the latter award, the agency concluded in a price/technical tradeoff determination that the higher technical merit of the higher-priced proposal warranted the payment of the price premium associated with it.

Specifically, the agency evaluators found that while the firm’s proposal provided a brief response to the detailed technical approach requirements, in which CDS mentioned the firm’s intention to maintain inventory and warehouse operations, specific statement of work requirements were not referenced, as was required (e.g., regarding subcontractor relationships, safety and health plans, quality control, and planned communication and information management), and no planned procedures or detailed methodologies were provided to explain how the firm intended to perform the statement of work requirements. Similarly, under the delivery evaluation factor, while the CDS proposal mentioned the use of certain vehicles and noted that certain reports could be produced, the evaluators found that insufficient detail was provided to ensure an adequate number and type of vehicles would be readily available for simultaneous deliveries, as required, and no detailed methodology was presented to either explain what procedures would be followed to ensure that materials would be expeditiously obtained and delivered, including delivery to remote locations, or to explain in any meaningful detail the firm’s planned procedures to meet stated reporting requirements.

In reiterating its position when a protester has failed to adequately respond to the requirements of a solicitation, the GAO stated that "In reviewing protests of alleged improper evaluations and source selections, our Office examines the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and in accord with the solicitation’s stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws. See Abt Assocs. Inc., B-237060.2, Feb. 26, 1990, 90-1 CPD para. 223 at 4. It is an offeror’s responsibility to submit an adequately written proposal that establishes its capability and the merits of its proposed technical approach in accordance with the evaluation terms of the solicitation. See Verizon Fed., Inc., B-293527, Mar. 26, 2004, 2004 CPD para. 186 at 4. A protester’s mere disagreement with the evaluation provides no basis to question the reasonableness of the evaluators’ judgments. See Citywide Managing Servs. of Port Washington, Inc., B-281287.12, B-281287.13, Nov. 15, 2000, 2001 CPD para. 6 at 10-11. Further, where, as here, technical factors are to be given greater importance than price in the determination of which proposal offers the agency the best overall value, price/technical tradeoffs may be made, and we will not disturb awards to offerors whose proposals have higher technical ratings and higher prices so long as the result is consistent with the evaluation factors and the agency has reasonably determined that the technical superiority outweighs the price difference. See Structural Preservation Sys., Inc., B-285085, July 14, 2000, 2000 CPD para. 131 at 7."

Author’s Note:  The lesson to be learned from this case, and others like it, is that a contractor cannot take anything for granted when responding to an RFP.  It is a mistake to assume that the agency knows about your capabilities as a result of previous contracts, and it is similarly a mistake to assume that the government evaluators will learn about your capabilities even though you do not provide detailed information.  Every proposal stands on its own and it is important to prepare your proposal in a manner that provides information that is responsive to the evaluation factors.  Contractors need to make certain that every evaluation factor is addressed clearly and thoroughly.  It is no longer enough to be the best contractor, you now need to be the "best" at putting proposals together, as well.  Most assuredly, you should do everything possible to avoid a conclusion like the one the GAO reached in the CDS case that "[g]iven the lack of detail in CDS’s proposal under each technical evaluation factor, we have no basis to question the evaluation."