Last December, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a solicitation for repair and maintenance work along the U.S. southwest boarder. The work included (i) fencing and gates, (ii) roads and bridges, (iii) drainage and grate systems, (iv)lighting and electrical systems and (v) vegetation control and debris removal.
The RFP instructed offerors to submit their proposals electronically, and on paper and to provide all required information in the format specified. With regard to the electronic version, the RFP required that it be submitted in "XLS" file format with all formulas and calculations. This requirement was necessary to "ensure submission of information essential to the understanding and comprehensive evaluation of the offeror's proposal. Offerors were specifically warned that a failure to comply with the RFP's proposal submission requirements would result in rejection of the firm's proposal.
Nineteen proposals were submitted in response to the solicitation. Based on an initial review, DHS rejected six of them for failing to comply with the RFP's requirement for submission of the price proposal in Excel file format. One of those six firms, Herman Construction appealed the Agency's rejection of its proposal to the Comptroller General. Herman, you see, had submitted its electronic proposal in PDF format rather than XLS format.
Herman argued that it had complied with the solicitation's submission requirements and that DHS had improperly rejected its proposal. Herman contended that its PDF files should have been acceptable to the Agency because they were based on the cost template guide provided in the RFP. DHS argued that the solicitation specifically required offerors to submit their price proposal spreadsheets as Microsoft Excel files.
The Comptroller General sided with the Government. The CG ruled that DHS properly rejected Herman's proposal for failing to comply with the RFP's mandatory proposal submission format requirement. An agency is not require to adapt its evaluation to comply with an offeror's submission. The question is not what the agency could possibly do to cure a noncompliant submission but rather, what it was required to do. Where proposal submission requirements are clear, an agency is not required to assume the risks of potential disruption to its procurement in order to permit an offeror to cure a defective proposal submission initiated by its failure to comply with mandatory solicitation requirements.
Here is yet another illustration of the importance of complying with specific solicitation requirements. All that work to prepare a proposal was for naught because of a simple formatting mistake.