Update: Decision released in protest denial of Railroad Retirement Board computer engineering services task

“DIGEST- Protest challenging award to a higher technically rated, higher-priced vendor is denied where the solicitation provided that technical merit was essentially equal to price and the agency’s procurement record provided a reasonable basis for the award decision.”

“BACKGROUND – The RFP, issued on June 24, 2020, contemplated award of a fixed-price task order in accordance with Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) subpart 8.4. Agency Report (AR), Exh. 1, RFP at 1, 5. The RFP limited competition to vendors who hold contracts under Schedule 70 of the General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) for the required services.1 Id. at 19.

The agency is seeking proposals from GSA schedule contract holders to implement Microsoft 365 design/build services in the Microsoft Government Community cloud.2 RFP at 4. The RFP advised prospective vendors that proposals would be evaluated on the basis of the following factors: technical approach, project management plan, risk management plan, security plan, staffing plan, issue resolution, timeline, quality assurance surveillance plan, experience and qualifications of proposed staff, and past performance. 3 Id. at 32-33. The solicitation advised vendors that “[t]he relative importance between all non-cost factors combined AND cost or price is essentially the same.” Id. at 31. The solicitation also stated that in the event the proposals were determined to be essentially technically equal under the non-price factors, then award would be made on the basis of the lowest overall price. Id.

The agency received three proposals responding to the RFP. COS at 1. Thereafter, the agency established a competitive range consisting of the proposals of TrueTandem and Practical Solutions, and conducted discussions with those vendors. AR, Exh. 11, Amend. No. 3; COS at 5. When conducting discussions with Practical Solutions, the agency provided relevant questions and sought clarifications. At the conclusion of discussions, the agency evaluated TrueTandem’s proposal as exceeding the technical requirements at a total evaluated price of $2,607,852, while evaluating Practical Solutions’s proposal as meeting the technical requirements at a total evaluated price of $2,578,085. AR, Exh. 18, Price Evaluation (final offers) at 1160, 1161; Exh. 29, Unsuccessful Offeror Letter to Practical Solutions Inc. (Sept. 17, 2020) at 1263; COS at 3.

Based on its evaluation of the final revised proposals, the agency concluded that TrueTandem’s proposal provided the best overall value to the government, and selected that firm for award. AR, Exh. 27, Notice of Award (Sept. 17, 2020). This protest to our Office followed.”

“DISCUSSION – In its protest, Practical Solutions contends that the agency’s source selection decision was flawed because it resulted in award to a vendor whose price was higher than that of Practical Solutions, even though that vendor only had a slightly higher technical rating. As discussed below, we find no basis to sustain the protest.

Source selection officials have broad discretion to determine the manner and extent to which they will make use of evaluation results, and must use their own judgment to determine what the underlying differences between proposals might mean to successful performance of the contract. See ERC, Inc. B-407297, B-407297.2, Nov. 19, 2012, 2012 CPD ¶ 321 at 10. It is well established that adjectival ratings are only guides for intelligent decision making in the procurement process. Protection Strategies, Inc., B-414648.2, B-414648.3, Nov. 20, 2017, 2017 CPD ¶ 365 at 17. The essence of an agency’s evaluation is reflected in the evaluation record itself, not in the adjectival ratings. See Systems Eng’g Partners, LLC, B-412329, B-412329.2, Jan. 20, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 31 at 7.

Here, as noted above, the solicitation provided that all noncost factors combined and cost or price were essentially equal in weight. RFP at 31. Further, as also discussed above, Practical Solutions’s proposal received a lower technical rating than True Tandem’s proposal …”

“DECISION – Practical Solutions, Inc., a small business of Washington, D.C., protests the award of a task order to TrueTandem, LLC, of Herndon, Virginia, under request for proposals (RFP) No. 60RRBH20R0018, issued by the Railroad Retirement Board for computer engineering services.  The protester contends that the agency made an improper source selection decision by awarding the task order to TrueTandem based on that vendor’s higher technically rated and higher-priced proposal.

We deny the protest.”

Access the full 4-page report here.

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