With relatively limited exceptions, most federal government contracts are awarded following a “best value” evaluation by the agency. To compete for the award in this process, contractors typically respond to a RFP, which requests the contractor to address a variety of topics including, but not limited to, its performance plan, relevant experience, past performance, etc. Failure to directly address a stated requirement or evaluation criteria of the solicitation, can result in a lower evaluation by the agency as occurred in Alares, LLC, Comp Gen. B-407124 (Nov. 24, 2012) (“Alares”). The Alares decision involved a disappointed offeror’s protest following a contract award by the government to a competitor. Alares’ proposal was downgraded due to a perceived deficiency in its submission. Although Alares conceded that it failed to include details responding to material requirements of the solicitation, it argued that the information could be inferred from its past performances on similar projects. The GAO denied the protest on the basis that it is not the agency’s duty to infer necessary information from a poorly written or basically incomplete submission.
The RFP in the Alares bid protest was a set-aside for service disabled veteran-owned small businesses to replace HVAC units in a VA facility. The awardee would be chosen following a best value evaluation of proposals, considering management approach, past performance, and price. There were five subcategories under management approach: adherence to construction schedule, technical approach, experience, construction safety plan, and compliance with infection control procedures.
Alares’ proposal was downgraded by the VA due to its submission on two factors, safety and infection control. The GAO summarized these proposal requirements as follows:
With regard to the construction safety plan subfactor, offerors were required to submit a plan that meets the RFP’s various safety requirements, including with regard to fire systems, life safety measures, fire wall/smoke barriers, and asbestos and lead inspections. Offerors were also required to provide documentation showing successful training of personnel in accordance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, and to establish the offeror’s familiarity and compliance with OSHA requirements. Offerors were also instructed to provide information regarding prior safety accidents or violations of OSHA or Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
With regard to the compliance with infection control procedures subfactor, offerors were required to address compliance with the requirements of the infection control procedures at the VAMC, including with regard to supervision, employee responsibilities, work practices, training, materials, equipment, and risk assessment methods.
While Alares submitted information on its past, successful performance in a hospital environment including VA hospitals, it did not specifically address safety or infection control procedures in its proposal. As a result, the VA rated Alares lower than the awardee under the management approach. Alares contended that it had successfully completed projects in a hospital environment even though its proposal did not address the construction safety requirements or infection control criteria as the RFP required. Alares protested its lower rating by the VA.
Burden of Proposing Firm
Alares argued that the VA should have inferred the information related to safety and ability to comply with infection control procedures from its past performance at three VA facilities. The GAO disagreed, noting that it is the “offeror’s responsibility to submit a well-written proposal, with adequately detailed information which clearly demonstrates compliance with the solicitation requirements and allows a meaningful review by the procuring agency.” The GAO further noted that an agency is not required to infer information from an inadequately detailed proposal.
Because Alares failed to provide detailed information regarding its safety plan and infection control procedures—an omission conceded by Alares—the protest was denied by the GAO. The key point for contractors is that it is essential to respond to each specific request for data in the RFP. Merely referencing a project on the basis that the reviewer will recognize its relevance or undertake to research the facts is problematic. As in this bid protest, the result is likely to be a relatively poor proposal evaluation and loss of an award.
As a check on its draft proposal, an offeror should consider developing a checklist, which identifies each of the categories and subcategories of information or data requested by the solicitation. The draft proposal should be compared to that list to verify that each item is expressly addressed in the submission. Relying on the evaluators to infer information is risky. The agency teams evaluating proposals differ from project to project. Information, which is known to one person, may not be generally known to all of the members of the evaluation team. Moreover, the agencies will resist the notion that they should fill the gaps in what is otherwise an incomplete proposal submission.