On September 14, 2021, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a decision in the matter of Marquis Solutions, LLC B-419891, B-419891.2, sustaining a protest. The GAO determined that the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) source selection decision was unreasonable, lacked a meaningful evaluation, and was inconsistent with the terms of its solicitation and applicable statutes and regulations. The GAO based its decision on the fact that the agency record lacked the requisite evidence to support its disparate conclusions. This decision serves as yet another reminder to companies that are seeking to do business with the federal government that they should raise issues with an agency’s source selection decision when they believe that the decision misevaluates the proposal, appears to treat competitors unfairly and unequally, or fails to sufficiently document evaluation conclusions.
The VA requested quotations for medical courier services in the New York metropolitan area and informed offerors that it intended to make an award, based on a best-value tradeoff basis, of a fixed-price indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for a base year and four one-year options. The competition used simplified acquisition procedures under part 13 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and was set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs). The request for quotations (RFQ) provided that the agency would evaluate the price and two non-price factors: (1) technical capability, and (2) management, certification, and training. The technical capability factor had two subfactors: (1) performance capability, and (2) technical experience (also referred to as past performance).
The agency received five quotations, two of which were eliminated from consideration. The VA evaluation team reviewed, at the contracting officer’s direction, redacted versions of the remaining three quotations under the performance capability subfactor. The agency assigned one offeror’s (FG Management (FG)) quotation an overall rating of outstanding. The second remaining offeror (referred to in the decision only as Company A) received a rating of acceptable, and the third remaining offer, Marquis Solutions, LLC (Marquis), received a rating of unacceptable. The source selection team then proceeded to evaluate Company A and FG under the technical experience (i.e., past performance) subfactor. Notably, the source selection team did not evaluate Marquis further, but did assign both FG and Company A satisfactory ratings under this subfactor. Ultimately, the VA made an award to FG, finding that its technical superiority warranted the award for $3,437,923, a price higher than Company A’s quotation.
Marquis protested the award to FG and argued that the VA source selection team failed to perform a meaningful evaluation of its quotation and evaluated it unreasonably compared to FG’s quote. Marquis argued that the agency failed to meaningfully consider or understand its offerings/capabilities, failed to provide adequate justification for choosing a more costly quotation, and disparately compared its quotation to that of FG in multiple evaluation areas. Marquis pointed out that, contrary to the agency’s contention, it offered a detailed description of its plan to meet the requirements. Marquis claims that its quotation included many of the same capabilities as FG’s at a significantly lower price. Marquis’ price was substantially lower than the awardee’s price (FG’s price was $3,437,923 and Marquis’ price was $2,236,598). Ultimately, after reviewing the source selection record, the GAO agreed with Marquis.
The GAO found that the VA evaluators were principally concerned with the formatting of Marquis’ quotation and the level of detail contained in the quote. However, the team failed to document the evaluation of the technical capability subfactor or what elements of the statement of work, if any, Marquis’ quotation failed to address. The GAO also noted that the VA evaluators made vague and conclusory findings about Marquis’ offer, which are insufficient to withstand a protest. As an example, the GAO pointed to their criticism of Marquis’ quotation for failing to address the solicitation’s evaluation criteria without giving further explanation of how they failed to do so.
Moreover, the GAO determined that the evaluators did not criticize FG’s quotation for similar deficiencies in formatting and level of detail. In fact, the GAO made it a point to note that the evaluators had not identified many of the strengths in FG’s quotation. Rather, the evaluators quoted materials verbatim from the FG quotation with no explanation about why the quoted language merited the ratings received.
Ultimately, the GAO found (1) that the record did not support a conclusion that the agency performed a meaningful evaluation of the Marquis quotation, and (2) that the agency failed to explain the inconsistencies in its evaluations. The GAO emphasized that agencies must treat competitors fairly and equally, as well as sufficiently document their evaluation conclusions. In sustaining this protest, the GAO also recommended that the agency reevaluate quotations and make a new source selection.
This decision serves as an important reminder that an agency must document its evaluation and source selection decision in sufficient detail. If the agency fails to do so, the agency bears the risk that the GAO may decide there was no support for the agency’s finding. RFQs should have detailed instructions or information on how firms should prepare their quotations. When an agency evaluates the quotations, they must do so on a similar basis with more than just general comments on the sufficiency of a quotation’s formatting and level of detail. Of course, companies competing for awards must ensure their offers respond to all solicitation requirements, but they should also be on the lookout for award decisions that lack sufficient explanations for disparate conclusions, or other indications that the agency has not properly evaluated their offer. When in doubt, a protest and the resulting GAO review of the agency’s record may result in a second chance for a company’s offer to be reviewed properly, reasonably, and fairly.