An Agency’s Overly Narrow Reading of a Solicitation Requirement Can be Challenged
December 17, 2013
By: Lindsay Simmons
SRA International, Inc. (SRA) recently lodged a protest challenging an award by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). SRA argued that NASA’s proposal evaluation was unreasonable for a number of reasons, including the assignment of a weakness to SRA’s proposal for failing to specify – through the submission of executed subcontracts – its commitment to use the proposed small business subcontractors. SRA successfully disputed NASA’s narrow reading of the subcontractor requirement. SRA International, Inc., B-408624 (Comp. Gen. Nov. 25, 2013).
According to SRA, its failure to furnish copies of agreements demonstrating firm commitments to use particular subcontractors in every small business category should not have been considered a weakness. SRA read the solicitation to require offerors to identify the work each proposed subcontractor would perform and to specify the extent of the offeror’s commitment to use the proposed subcontractors for such work. SRA did not read the solicitation to require the identification of all subcontractors or, therefore, the submission of agreements evidencing commitments with all subcontractors. SRA argued that it complied with the requirements of the RFP by furnishing copies of agreements for those subcontractors identified in its proposal and, thus, it should not have been assigned a weakness. The agency disagreed, taking the position that the RFP required agency evaluation of the extent of the offeror’s commitment to use small business subcontractors and that this commitment was to be measured based upon the submission of subcontracts.
GAO was not persuaded by the agency’s position. Citing to language in the RFP, GAO found offerors were required to “connect the work to the subcontractor and specify the extent of commitment to use the subcontractor(s)” only if the subcontractor(s) were known. According to GAO, “[c]onsistent with these provisions, the protester furnished copies of enforceable agreements for its known subcontractors”. Thus, GAO held there was no reasonable basis for NASA’s finding that SRA failed to provide information as contemplated by the RFP.
It’s important to read a solicitation carefully and to understand exactly what the agency requires. On the other hand it’s also important to know when an agency has gone too far – when it has interpreted the solicitation requirements too narrowly – and to determine if your otherwise successful proposal was downgraded as a result.
Lindsay Simmons is the attorney responsible for the content of this article.
© Jackson Kelly PLLC 2013