Update: Decision released in protest denial of NOAA National Weather Service Engineering Services contract

“DIGEST – Protest alleging that agency misevaluated proposals and made an unreasonable source selection decision is denied where the record shows that the agency’s evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the terms of the solicitation.

“BACKGROUND – On December 17, 2019, the agency issued the RFQ to WOSBs holding contracts under the Professional Services FSS Category No. 871 4, Professional Engineering Services. Agency Report (AR), Tab 1, RFQ at 1-2. The solicitation contemplated the award of a single time-and-materials task order on the basis of a best-value tradeoff between price and non-price factors. Id. at 4. The solicitation provided for the evaluation of quotations under three evaluation factors, listed in descending order of importance: (1) technical approach; (2) past performance; and (3) price. Id. Relevant to this protest, the procurement represents a follow-on effort related to an existing task order, but the scope of work for this procurement is significantly narrower than the scope of work under the incumbent task order. Supp. Memorandum of Law (MOL) at 2-4. For the challenged procurement, the agency modified its procurement strategy to separate several requirements currently provided under the existing task order into different contract vehicles. MOL at 19. Specifically, the prior task order provided support for the agency’s upper-air observing systems (UAOS), automated surface observing systems (ASOS), and Cooperative Observer Program (COOP), among other things, but the challenged task order only provides support for UAOS. Supp. MOL at 2-4.

To fulfill the UAOS requirements, the RFQ required vendors to propose 5 positions with specific skillsets at 1880 hours per year. RFQ at 24-25. With the incumbent contract ending, the RFQ emphasized the need for vendors to recruit and retain incumbent personnel, indicating that incumbent capture was a government priority. Id. at 26. The RFQ also required vendors to address the following areas in their technical approach: (1) incumbent capture methodology; (2) phase-in strategy and approach to performing the work without disrupting or compromising effective and efficient operations; (3) the overall approach to ensure timely and accurate reporting; and (4) any risks associated with the approach and proposed mitigation methods, along with the proposed objective criteria that can be used to determine if each milestone has been achieved…”

On January 10, 2020, the agency received two quotations in response to the RFQ, one from the protester and one from the intervenor…”

“On the basis of this evaluation, the agency concluded that Dowless represented the best value to the government because, while Syneren had superior past performance, Dowless offered a technically superior quotation at a significantly lower price. Id. at 7. On June 12 the agency made award to Dowless. MOL at 11. This protest followed.”

“DISCUSSION – The protester challenges the agency’s evaluation of quotations and the best-value tradeoff decision. Protest at 6-12. Specifically, the protester alleges that the agency

erred in assigning its quotation one significant weakness and three weaknesses, and in assigning the awardee’s quotation a significant strength. Id.; Protester’s Comments and Supp. Protest at 12-16. Furthermore, the protester argues that the agency evaluated the quotations unequally by evaluating similar aspects of the quotations differently.1 Id. We address these arguments in turn.

Protester’s Significant Weakness

The protester alleges that the agency erred in assigning its quotation a significant weakness for proposing to use a subject matter expert (SME) IV position as a team lead while splitting that position between two part-time staff. Protest at 6-7. Specifically, the protester argues that the solicitation did not require vendors to propose a single point of contact, and that, in any case, the two individuals are satisfactorily performing the same role under the incumbent contract. Id. Accordingly, the protester suggests that the agency’s assignment of a significant weakness is unreasonable. Id.

Relatedly, the protester also notes that the awardee received no similar weakness even though it proposed to hire incumbent staff to perform the role in question. Protester’s Comments and Supp. Protest at 5-6. While the awardee did not specifically propose to split the SME IV position into two part-time positions, the protester contends that the awardee’s plan to retain the incumbent staff would either lead to the same result or require the awardee take on additional risk by hiring non-incumbent staff. Id. In this respect the protester contends the evaluation was unequal. Id.

In response, the agency argues that the solicitation called for a single full-time SME IV position, and did not permit or otherwise address the question of using multiple parttime staff to fill the position. MOL at 13-14. Moreover, the description of the position emphasized management and reporting experience, and the protester’s quotation identified the SME IV position as its team lead. Id. Accordingly, the agency contends it was reasonable to conclude that the assignment of a leadership role to two different people could pose a risk to unity of effort. Id. Moreover, the agency notes that, while the protester argues these two individuals are performing this function under the incumbent task order, the descriptions of the professional experience of these individuals in the protester’s quotation do not support that claim. Supp. MOL at 9-10. Specifically, one of the individuals proposed for the SME IV position does not appear to have specific experience supporting…”

“DECISION – Syneren Technologies Corporation, a woman-owned small business (WOSB) of Arlington, Virginia, challenges the issuance of a task order to Dowless & Associates, Inc., a WOSB of Arlington, Virginia, by the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service (NWS), under request for quotations (RFQ) No. 1305M220QNWWG0040, issued under the Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) for engineering services. The protester argues that the agency erred in its evaluation of quotations in several respects.

We deny the protest.”

Access the full 10-page report here.


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