If You Want to Win the Contract, You Can’t Afford to Rely on Glancing References and Unsupported Assurances to “Demonstrate” Anything
When solicitations require proposals to address numerous factors in a limited number of pages, offerors must find a way to adequately cover all the issues in as few words as possible. Faced with this situation, contractors may be tempted to use shorthand methods of presenting information. As the recent US Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision in 8 Consulting, LLC, B-417471 (July 9, 2019) makes clear, however, offerors should avoid relying on general references and bald assertions to establish compliance with solicitation requirements. Evaluators will generally require more.
The subject protest involved 8 Consulting, LLC‘s challenge to an agency’s evaluation of its quotation as unacceptable. The request for quotations (RFQ) was issued by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for implementation functionality services under Federal Supply Service Information Technology Schedule 70. The RFQ anticipated an award to the vendor submitting the lowest-priced, technically acceptable quotation based on two factors: technical/management approach and price. The technical/management approach factor consisted of three equally weighted subfactors: minimum qualifications matrix, implementation support, and engineering support. The RFQ also explained that each subfactor would be evaluated individually and would be assigned a rating of acceptable or unacceptable, based on whether the quote met the solicitation requirements for that subfactor.
DISA received quotations from four vendors, including 8 Consulting and the ultimate awardee, Creative IT. During the technical evaluation of vendor proposals, the agency determined that the lowest and next lowest proposals were technically unacceptable. It then turned to the quotation from 8 Consulting, which proposed the third-lowest price—and found that it was unacceptable under all three subfactors.
When DISA notified 8 Consulting that its quotation had not been accepted, the company protested, arguing that the agency had unreasonably misread or ignored responsive material in its quotation. The GAO disagreed, noting that vendors have an obligation to submit an adequately written quotation for the agency to evaluate—and that simply restating the requirements of the RFQ does not meet that burden. According to the GAO, 8 Consulting’s quotation did not meet the solicitation requirements, essentially because it repeatedly gave short shrift to explaining how it met them.
For example, the implementation support subfactor required vendors to demonstrate their ability to perform eight specific elements. DISA evaluated 8 Consulting’s quotation as unacceptable for failing to establish two of the eight: (i) the ability to coordinate the testing, troubleshooting and problem resolution (TTPR) for mission partner and internal DISA related software; and (ii) the ability to understand and ensure project compliance with all DISA technical standards and concepts.
With respect to the TTPR element, 8 Consulting’s quotation had only briefly mentioned the requirement and, rather than attempting to describe a methodology or the process to be used, only stated that the company would perform the task. DISA’s evaluators concluded that this did not demonstrate an ability to coordinate testing, troubleshooting, and problem resolution.” 8 Consulting argued that the agency had unreasonably ignored the surrounding information in its quotation, asserting that such information related to the company’s methodology for managing a number of tasks–including testing, troubleshooting and problem resolution. GAO rejected that argument, observing that “8 Consulting’s quotation appears to simply restate the bulleted requirements of [the] statement of work subtask.
The GAO found the quotation’s approach to the project compliance element similarly lacking. Again the evaluators found that 8 Consulting’s quotation merely stated that the company would perform certain tasks in compliance with applicable regulations and promised it would conduct compliance reviews and did not “provide any description on how the work will be performed.” Despite 8 Consulting’s citations to a number of statements referencing compliance “interwoven throughout its quotation,” the GAO found the agency’s evaluation to be reasonable because “none of these statements provides any additional detail or explanation regarding how 8 Consulting will understand and ensure project compliance with all DISA technical standards and concepts, as required by the RFQ.”
Because it concluded that the agency reasonably found that 8 Consulting’s quotation failed to meet this requirement under the implementation support subfactor, and therefore, reasonably evaluated 8 Consulting’s quotation as unacceptable, the GAO found no basis to sustain the protest.
Offerors attempting to ensure quotations or proposals meet agency-imposed page limitations must steer clear of the temptation to address solicitation requirements with shorthand comments instead of meaningful statements that clearly respond to those requirements. One way to do this is to constantly remind yourself that the fundamental purpose of your solicitation response is to persuade the agency that your proposed solution is the best option. As 8 Consulting learned, it can be very difficult if not impossible to win if you don’t provide more than a top-level explanation of how you meet the requirements and deserve the award.
Contact Eric Whytsell for more information.