On April 2, 2021 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a decision in the matter of Trademasters Service, Inc. dismissing in part and denying in part a protest that challenged the General Services Administration’s (GSA) establishment of a facilities maintenance and management Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). See Trademasters Service, Inc. B-418522.2 et al., April 2, 2021. Specifically, the protester argued that GSA should have conducted a price realism analysis. GAO dismissed this argument for failing to state a valid basis of protest because GSA’s solicitation neither provided for nor permitted a price realism evaluation. The protester also argued that GSA engaged in unequal discussions. The GAO denied this argument as well, maintaining that GSA properly established a competitive range, the protester was excluded from the competitive range, and GSA engaged in permissible discussions with vendors remaining in the competitive range.
GSA issued a solicitation on November 26, 2019 to GSA Federal Supply Schedule No. 03FAC (Facilities Maintenance and Management) contract holders, seeking quotes to establish a single fixed-price BPA for facilities services at five federal buildings in Washington, D.C. for a one-year base period and nine one-year option periods. The solicitation provided that GSA would make award on a best-value tradeoff basis considering price and non-price factors. GSA received 15 timely-submitted quotations. Of these 15 quotations, GSA assigned 11 quotations an “unacceptable” rating; two quotations, including Trademasters’ quotation, an “acceptable” rating; and the two remaining quotations a “very good” rating. The contracting officer then eliminated the 11 unacceptable quotations from further consideration, ranked the remaining four vendors, and conducted a price-technical tradeoff analysis in accordance with the solicitation. Of the remaining quotations, GSA determined that Trademasters’ was the highest-priced, acceptable-rated quotation. Based on this high price, the contracting officer, who also was the source selection authority, eliminated Trademasters’ quotation from further consideration along with the remaining acceptable-rated quotation. The contracting officer then engaged in exchanges with the remaining two offerors, ultimately selecting a revised quotation representing the best value to the government. When GSA notified Trademasters of its award decision, Trademasters timely filed a protest with the GAO.
Trademasters challenged GSA’s evaluation of the awardee’s quotation, contending that the awardee misrepresented its key personnel’s availability. As the incumbent, Trademasters also argued that the awardee could not possibly perform as required by the solicitation at its quoted price. After reviewing the record, however, GAO found that GSA evaluators reviewed the awardees’ proposed labor mix and its appropriateness to the requirement, along with the awardees documented strategies for performing successfully at a lower price. GAO also determined that, considering the protestor’s assertion that GSA should have deemed the awardees price too low for the effort and labor mix proposed, the protestor was arguing that GSA should have conducted a price realism analysis. Because the solicitation did not provide that GSA would conduct a price realism analysis, the GAO dismissed this argument outright.
Trademasters also alleged that GSA improperly conducted discussions with only two offerors, and unreasonably excluded Trademasters’ quotation from further consideration for award based on a flawed price evaluation. GSA disputed the protestor’s characterization of its communications with the two offerors as discussions, and instead described them as clarifications. Considering the fact that GSA permitted both offerors to submit revised pricing as well as technical revisions that resolved unfavorable aspects of their initial quotations, GAO agreed with Trademasters and found these communications to be discussions, not clarifications. However, GAO rejected Trademasters’ argument that these discussions were unequal, as GSA had effectively established a competitive range from which it reasonably excluded Trademasters’ quotation. GAO also found that GSA reasonably concluded that Trademasters had no realistic prospect of award in light of its significantly higher price. The solicitation expressly contemplated the elimination of quotations from further consideration prior to entering into exchanges. Therefore, GAO found that the contracting officer reasonably excluded Trademasters highest-priced quotation from the competitive range.
This GAO decision reinforces the well-established principle that when the agency’s actions during a procurement are challenged, the solicitation provisions are dispositive. In this case, GAO referenced the plainly stated solicitation language to determine that a price realism analysis was neither contemplated, required, nor permitted. GAO also relied on the solicitation language in its determination that the GSA could eliminate a quotation from award prior to entering into exchanges. Importantly, GAO upheld the agency’s actions, even when the agency had conducted discussions as opposed to clarifications, as it had originally asserted. The bottom line is that GAO will not substitute its judgment for the agency’s or the protestor’s. It will instead evaluate the agency’s actions for reasonableness and consistency with the solicitation criteria, applicable statutes, and regulations.