Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Proposed Commercial Product Must Meet Salient Characteristics

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a solicitation back in April for commercial item quotations to provide analytical balances to VA facilities. The RFQ (Request for Quotation) identified nine specific models of a particular brand of balances (Mettlier Toledo) corresponding to nine separate contract line item numbers (CLIN) and then listed nine salient characteristics - each of which was labeled as being applicable to all nine balance models. The salient characteristics included a touchscreen display, capacities up to a minimum of 220 grans, a means to prevent air currents from affecting results, a resolution of 0.1 mg or better, accuracy at a combined maximum error of 2 divisions, a check-weighing function and more.

The VA received quotations from four firms, including GSSI (Government Scientific Source, Inc) and Kanawha (the ultimate winning bidder). The VA rejected GSSI's bid based on a review of literature included in the technical proposal that showed the proposed balance models did not meet minimum specifications. Specifically, the proposed models did not (i) provide a status light to indicate "ready", "warnings", and "errors" and (ii) did not have removable trays. Due to those weaknesses, the VA found the quote technically unacceptable and ineligible for award.

GSSI appealed VA's award to Kanawha arguing that the VA had misevaluated the GSSI quotation. Essentially, GSSI argued that indicator lights and removable trays have been standard equipment on all commercial scientific balances for decades, that every modern balance has bot features, and that both features were evident in the photographs in the descriptive literature submitted as part of its quotation.

GAO (Government Accountability Office) took the unusual step of calling GSSI to have the company show them that illustrations in the printed material depicted removable pans. GSSI had to confess then that the illustrations did not show removable pans and the text of the literature did not indicate the presence of removable pans.

A vendor is responsible for submitting a well-written quotation, with adequately detailed information, that clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency. An offeror must include sufficiently detailed information in its proposal to establish that the equipment offered will meet the solicitation requirements. Under a brand name-or-equal specification, with respect to the offer of an "or equal" product, an offeror's proposal must demonstrate that its product conforms to the salient characteristics listed in the solicitation.

GAO's review provided no basis for objecting the VA's evaluation because GSSI's quotation did not demonstrate that its products met at least one of the required salient characteristics in the RFQ. Therefore GAO denied the protest.

The full GAO decision is available here.

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