What You Say in Your Proposal Can and Will Be Used Against You
October 5, 2015
By: Eric Whytsell
Preparing a contract proposal can be like writing a story. But while a story involves plot and character development, a proposal instead focuses on how best to explain why the offeror and its product/services are the best response to the agency’s stated needs. In order to be successful, the explanation must include only information that supports the message being conveyed. Inconsistent or ambiguous content can sink a proposal. As one contractor recently learned first-hand, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is not likely to relieve an offeror from the consequences of including unhelpful information in its proposal.
The protest decided in UNISET Company, LLC, B-411792 (September 11, 2015), involved a challenge to the Air Force’s evaluation of a quotation for a seamless “green screen” system. The request for quotations (RFQ) sought a screen system with a “[s]eamless wall to wall and wall to floor curved transition” and required offerors to include in their quotes sufficient information for the agency to evaluate compliance with the stated minimum requirements. The award decision was to be made on a lowest-price technically acceptable basis, where technical acceptability was defined as “meeting all minimum salient characteristics.”
The Air Force received three quotes in response, including those from Uniset Company, LLC (Uniset) and the awardee, Virtualsets.com, Inc. (Virtualsets). UNISET quoted its UNI-CYC model at a price of $15,629 and included a photograph of its system as installed at a commercial broadcasting studio. Virtualsets quoted its cyclorama system at a price of $19,591. When the quotes were reviewed, the agency evaluator determined UNISET’s quote was not technically acceptable because the picture it included showed a system in which “all seam joints are visible.” According to the agency, the resulting “on-screen noise” and lighting imbalances would require multiple hours of post-production effort to remedy (which was the reason for the minimum requirement in the first place).
After the Air Force issued a purchase order to Virtualsets and provided a debriefing to UNISET, UNISET filed this protest arguing that its solution was the lowest-priced technically acceptable solution. The agency contended, however, that it reasonably determined UNISET’s product to be technically unacceptable because the photograph in its proposal clearly showed visible seams. In response, UNISET claimed that any seams that appeared were caused by unfavorable lighting conditions and that, in fact, the UNI-CYC model has “no noticeable visible seams . . . that require post-production editing” and thus is technically acceptable. According to UNISET, its existing clients have never complained about seams and the Air Force failed to “thoroughly validate the UNISET proposal.”
The GAO disagreed, noting that vendors are responsible for affirmatively demonstrating that their quotations meet the agency’s stated minimum requirements and finding the Air Force’s evaluator had a reasonable basis to conclude from the photograph in UNISET’s quote that its product had noticeable seams. Since the RFQ clearly specified that the system had to be seamless and the photograph appeared to show seams, GAO had no basis to question the agency evaluator’s conclusion.
In other words, UNISET would have won the award had the photograph it submitted been consistent with its claim that the UNI-CYC product fulfilled the Air Force’s minimum requirements. As GAO noted, UNISET presumably included the photograph in an attempt to fulfill the RFQ’s direction to provide sufficient information to demonstrate full compliance with those requirements. But by submitting this photograph UNISET actually provided the agency everything it needed to declare UNISET’s quote technically unacceptable and ineligible for award.
The bottom line? Carefully review every aspect of each proposal to ensure that all the information it contains clearly supports the story you are trying to tell.
Eric Whytsell is responsible for the contents of this Article.
© Jackson Kelly PLLC 2015