Monday, July 10, 2017

Company Loses Chance for $200 Million Contract due to Its Clerical Error

The Navy issued a RFP (Request for Proposal) for engineering and logistics-support services for naval surveillance radar. Valkyrie Enterprises submitted a bid but it was thrown out (i.e. eliminated from the competition) by the Navy as noncompliant with the solicitation requirements. Valkyrie appealed to the GAO (aka Comptroller General). You see, the solicitation required a "senior acquisition manager" (SAM) with a minimum of 12 years of experience in acquisition management associated with combat systems. Valkyrie's proposed SAM reflected only 11 years of acquisition management experience, not the 12 years required by the solicitation.

Upon being notified of its elimination from competition, Valkyrie called the Navy to explain it had made a clerical error because the SAM resume had been truncated. The person proposed for the job had more than the requisite 12 years of acquisition management experience. The Navy didn't respond so Valkyrie protested.

Valkyrie contended that the Navy's decision not to seek clarification concerning the SAM's resume was unreasonable and contrary to law, regulation, and the terms of the solicitation. Specifically, Valkyrie argued that several factors, both intrinsic and extrinsic to its proposal should have alerted the evaluators to Valkyrie's clerical error and therefore the Navy erred in not seeking such clarifications. Valkyrie offered three arguments to support its position.

  1. Valkyrie noted that other parts of its proposal were inconsistent with the resume in question which should have alerted the Navy to the need for clarification. Specifically, the staffing plan noted that the SAM had 31 years of related professional experience which was inconsistent with the 11 years of acquisition management experience displayed on the truncated resume.
  2. Valkyrie aruged that its SAM currently works in in an acquisition management capacity on the incumbent contract, has done so since November 2004, and thus was well-known to the Navy
  3. Valkyrie argued that its certification that all key personnel identified in its proposal met the required qualifications should also have alerted the Navy to the necessity of clarifications.
Valkyrie contended that when viewed in the context of these circumstances, the Navy's refusal to seek clarification was unreasonable.

The GAO didn't buy the arguments. First they noted that it is the offeror's responsibility to submit a well-written proposal, with adequately detailed information which clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency, in this case, the Navy. Furthermore, the GAO pointed out that agencies may, but are not required to, engage in clarifications that give offerors an opportunity to clarify certain aspects of proposals or to resolve minor or clerical errors.

With respect to Valkyrie's specific arguments, the GAO addressed each one. The inconsistency mentioned in item 1 above was not necessarily inconsistent. The 31 years of related professional management experience did not necessarily equate to 12 years of acquisition management experience. In fact, as it turned out, the SAM had only 19 years of acquisition management experience, not 31, but that number was no discernible from Valkyrie's proposal.

The argument that the Navy should have recognized the name of the proposed SAM because he was the incumbent was groundless. That information was not "too close at hand to ignore".

The third argument that Valkyrie certified that all personnel met the requirements of the solicitation as part of the submission was dismissed also. The Navy is not obliged to parse the protester's proposal to try to determine whether the proposal offers comparable sources of information.

You can read the full text of the bid protest decision here.

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