It is a contractor’s responsibility to submit a well-written proposal in response to a solicitation. As a recent GAO case illustrates, an agency will not find much value in an offeror’s broad, unspecific statements that do not allow the agency to make a meaningful review of that proposal. Nor can an offeror expect an agency to dig through unrelated sections of a proposal to determine whether an offeror can meet the requirements of a different section.
In Dawson Solutions, LLC, B-418587; B-418587.2 (June 19, 2020), Dawson Solutions protested the award of a contract to Kupono Government Services, LLC, challenging the Army’s evaluation of key personnel requirements in a solicitation for IT services. The RFP was issued as an 8(a) set-aside and provided for award on a best value basis. At issue in this protest was the Army’s evaluation of the key personnel subfactor under the technical capability factor.
The RFP instructed offerors to provide resumes for all key personnel that adequately addressed a number of requirements and qualifications. At issue in this protest were the requirements for two key personnel positions. The RFP required the resumes submitted for key personnel positions to clearly demonstrate that personnel possessed certain certifications by the contract start date.
The Army assigned Dawson an unacceptable rating under the key personnel subfactor, finding that two of Dawson’s proposed key personnel – senior IT project manager and senior systems administrator – did not possess the required certifications.
Dawson raised numerous protest grounds related to this unacceptable rating. First, Dawson cited to a statement in the section of its proposal addressing the staffing subfactor that it was “committed to retaining our current workforce and will invest in training and certifying existing employees” as addressing the missing key personnel certifications.
GAO disagreed with the protestor’s argument that this broad statement in a different subsection, which did not even specifically address the required key personnel certifications, was sufficient to meet the RFP’s requirements. GAO noted that the key personnel subsection of Dawson’s proposal did not include any information regarding the required certifications, and stated that “[a]n agency is not required to search other sections of an offeror’s proposal for information to meet requirements related to a different section.”
Second, Dawson contended that the agency engaged in disparate treatment when it assigned the awardee, Kupono, an acceptable rating under the key personnel subfactor, even though four of Kupono’s proposed key personnel did not have all required certifications. GAO disagreed, finding that a key difference between Kupono’s proposal and Dawson’s proposal was that Kupono’s proposal affirmatively stated, in each of the key personnel’s resumes, that each of the key personnel would obtain the required certifications by the contract start date. GAO found it unobjectionable that the Army found that the specific statements regarding certifications in Kupono’s key personnel resumes met the RFP requirements while Dawson’s vague statements about “invest[ing] in training and certifying existing employees” in a section addressing a different subfactor altogether did not.
Third, Dawson argued that the Army engaged in disparate treatment when it engaged in clarifications regarding the key personnel certifications with Kupono but not with Dawson. The Army had emailed clarification questions to Kupono seeking confirmation that the proposed key personnel would obtain the required certifications before the contract start date, but did not send Dawson any similar clarifications regarding key personnel.
GAO denied this protest ground as well, noting that “offerors have no automatic right to clarifications regarding proposals,” and that, unlike with discussions, “requesting clarification from one offeror does not trigger a requirement that the agency seek clarification from other offerors.” Furthermore, GAO determined that “[a]ny exchanges between the agency and Dawson would have necessarily concerned the acceptability of Dawson’s proposal and would have required that Dawson revise its proposal in some manner, thereby constituting discussions.”