NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (part of the Commerce Department) issued an RFQ (Request for Quotation) for weather and climate computing infrastructure services. The solicitation was issued as an SBA 8(a) small business set-aside and award was to be made to the vendor whose quotation represented the best value to the Government, considering (i) technical approach, (ii) corporate experience, and (iii) price.
NOAA received two quotations, one from Ace and the other from Cyberdata. NOAA's Technical Evaluation Team (TET) reviewed the quotations and assigned equal adjectival ratings to both; technical approach - acceptable; corporate experience - good; overall - good. Based on these equal adjectival ratings, NOAA's selection official concluded that price would be the determining factor and awarded the contract to Ace, whose proposal was about $2 million less than Cyberdata's.
Cyberdata protested the award, contending that NOAA failed to look behind the adjectival ratings in making its selection decision. The Comptroller General's office hearing the appeal agreed. The CG stated that adjectival ratings are not dispositive metrics for an agency to express a proposal's merit. What is important is not the scores themselves, but the underlying substantive merits of the proposals as embodied in, or reflected by the scores. Agencies must explain the basis for why proposals are considered technically equivalent.
In this case, the CG found that NOAA's selection decision did not demonstrate that the selection official meaningfully looked behind the adjectival ratings and beyond the number of strengths assessed to each vendor's quotation to determine that the vendors' quotations were technically equal. To remedy the situation, the CG recommended that NOAA terminate Ace's contract for convenience and issue a new solicitation where where NOAA can do things correctly. Also, Cyberdata is to be reimbursed its protest costs including attorney's fees.
You can read the entire bid protest decision here.