When it comes to proposal evaluation, a recent decision serves as a stark reminder that an agency must consider the plain language of an offeror’s quote in the context of the entire quote or risk having its evaluation decision deemed to be unreasonable. Mayvin, Inc. (Mayvin) filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenging the award of a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) to Bennett Aerospace, Inc. (Bennett). See Matter of: Mayvin, Inc., B-419301.7 (June 29, 2021). In its protest, Mayvin alleged that the Department of Justice, United States Marshals Service (USMS) disparately evaluated its quotation, and conducted an unreasonable best-value tradeoff analysis. On June 29, 2020, GAO published a decision sustaining this protest, finding that USMS 1) failed to treat certain “retention plan” language in the quotations equally, and 2) failed to consider certain quotation language, which ultimately tainted its best-value tradeoff analysis.
The solicitation provided that USMS would award a BPA on a best-value tradeoff basis considering price and two non-price factors: technical approach and past performance. The “technical approach” factor consisted of four equally-weighted subfactors: quality control plan, management plan, recruitment and retention plan, and transition plan. When combined, the non-price factors were considered significantly more important than price.
USMS received timely quotations from a number of vendors, including Mayvin and Bennett. Under the two non-price factors, Mayvin and Bennett’s quotations received the same ratings. In fact, the Source Selection Authority (SSA) noted that while Mayvin quoted a superior management plan, Bennett quoted a superior recruitment and retention plan rendering each quotations’ non-price benefit to USMS essentially equal. But because Bennett’s price was slightly lower, USMS awarded the BPA to Bennett, finding that its quotation represented the best overall value to the government.
Mayvin timely protested the award to Bennett. Mayvin argued that USMS credited Bennett with a significant benefit under the recruitment and retention plan subfactor for setting a goal to retain 100 percent of qualified incumbents and its documented retention strategies, but failed to credit its own quotation the same significant benefit. The agency record reflected that both Mayvin and Bennett highlighted their commitment to retaining qualified incumbents, consistent with the performance work statement (PWS). However, Mayvin’s quotation provided that it would execute its continuity plan in a manner that would ensure as many personnel as practicable would remain on the job. Bennett’s proposal did not contain that phrase. USMS found that the use of the term as practicable called into question Mayvin’s commitment to retention, rendering Mayvin’s recruitment and retention plan slightly inferior to Bennett’s.
The GAO found USMS’s evaluation unreasonable for two reasons. First, the GAO determined that Mayvin had demonstrated its commitment to retention on numerous occasions throughout its quotation. The GAO opined that it was unreasonable for the agency to conclude that the single reference in Mayvin’s quotation to the specific PWS language requiring the contractor to ensure “as many personnel as practicable” remain on the job to help the successor maintain the continuity and consistency of the services required meant that Mayvin didn’t intend to provide 100 percent of qualified incumbent personnel. The GAO also noted that Mayvin’s quotation included a table identifying all of the incumbent personnel by name, and explained that “[b]ased on our proactive vetting of all incumbent contractors, Team Mayvin contractors have been carefully mapped to the [PWS] labor category descriptions enabling 0 percent attrition to the new contract.” The GAO concluded that Mayvin’s quotation, when read in the context of the solicitation and PWS, was unreasonably evaluated by the USMS, and that the SSA ultimately determined that only Bennett’s proposed goal of retaining 100 percent of qualified incumbents and documented retention strategies provided a significant non-cost benefit.
This decision serves to remind businesses submitting quotations to federal agencies that the government is not permitted to ignore the plain language of the quotation. Government evaluators must consider all quotation language in its totality, as well as the context in which the language is used. Further, they must consider the language provided in governing PWS or solicitation to the extent that they are driving the content of the quotations. And finally, while offerors should never simply regurgitate solicitation or PWS language in their proposals or quotations, sometimes it is helpful to weave the government’s language with the offerors’ language in order to address specific objectives. If the offeror does this, the GAO may not allow the agency to unreasonably penalize the offeror for taking this approach.