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Booz Allen Hamilton Loses Post-Award Protest of VA Best-Value Decision

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Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc. (BAH), a business management consulting company challenged the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s award pf a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) for support services to transform the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) into a High Reliability Organization (HRO). BAH challenged the agency’s evaluation of the bidder’s quotations and its award decision in a General Accounting Office (GAO) protest.

Background

The VA issued a solicitation for the BPA in July 2019 under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to vendors holding General Services Administration (GSA) Professional Services Schedule (PSS) contracts. The scope of work consisted of performance of onsite assessment diagnostics, provision of training and support of national HRO training initiatives, analysis of outcomes, and implementation plans. The work was to be performed in VA medical centers across the country. The solicitation required submission of past-performance information in proposals and included no restriction on identifying the past performance of an affiliate or subsidiary. The request for quotation (RFQ) indicated the agency would evaluate the price for reasonableness by assessing the reasonableness of the quoted labor rates and the weighted labor rates of the first call order. 

Booz Allen Hamilton’s protest was based on the following:

  1. Challenging the VA’s evaluation of the awardees’ past performance, alleging that the VA improperly credited an awardee with the past performance of an affiliate;

  2. Challenging the VA’s evaluation of an awardee’s price quotation alleging that the evaluation was unreasonable, that the VA misevaluated the bidders’ total prices, and that the evaluation was not consistent with the solicitation requirements;

  3. Alleging that an awardee received an unfair competitive advantage based on hiring a current government employee for a key personnel position; and

  4. Challenging of the agency’s best-value decision, alleging that the protester’s bid was superior to the awardees’ bids.

Challenges to the Agency’s Evaluation

BAH claimed the agency’s evaluation of bidder Cognosante was flawed. It claimed that the VA credited Cognosante for past performance of a recently purchased affiliate, although the quotation did not explain whether the affiliate would be meaningfully involved in performance of the contract. The agency, however, asserted that the VA could credit Cognosante for its affiliate’s past performance and the experience of the affiliate because the awardee acquired full ownership of the affiliate, and Cognosante’s bid showed that some of the affiliate’s prior management would be involved in the current BPA.

However, according to Matter of: Deloitte Consulting, LLP; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.; Calibre Sys., Inc., B-411884 (Nov. 16, 2015), agencies can attribute the experience or past performance of a parent or affiliated company to a vendor where the firm’s quote shows the resources the parent or affiliate will affect the performance of the vendor. The GAO noted there is nothing objectionable in attributing experience or past performance of related entities to the business entity entering into the contract when there is a significant nexus between the parent or affiliate and the contracting entity.

Evaluation of Cognosante’s Price

The GAO found no factual support for unfair competitive advantage as BAH claimed. The discretion given to contracting officers provided no basis for a finding that the officer’s determination unreasonable. BAH claimed that the VA’s evaluation of Cognosante’s price quote was unreasonable and that the VA misevaluated the bidders’ total prices. BAH also claimed that the contract award to Cognosante exceeded “the RFQ’s ceiling for the base year.” The VA responded to these allegations, but BAH continued its argument by raising a supplemental protest ground. It argued that the VA “deviated from the RFQ’s stated evaluation scheme” when it concluded Cognosante had a better value to the government when BAH “had a lower evaluated price.” The VA admitted that Cognosante’s price was higher than BAH. However, the Department argued that its price evaluation was consistent with the evaluation criteria in the RFQ. It also said that Cognosante provided additional benefits: Cognosante’s likelihood of implementation was very reliable and had potential future price savings.

Best-Value Decision

BAH alleged that the Department’s best-value analysis was flawed because BAH submitted a quote that was less expensive than Cognosante’s, while both BAH and Cognosante received identical technical ratings. On that basis, BAH believed it should have been the recipient of the award. The agency, however, stated that the similarity in the adjectival ratings did not present the “full factual picture.” The agency stated Cognosante offered “numerous substantial non-price benefits that more than justify the 12% evaluated price premium.” Furthermore, contracting officers have considerable discretion when making tradeoff decisions in a best-value selection, as noted in Matter of: Omega Apparel, Inc., B-411266 (June 26, 2015).

Conclusion

The protest was denied. The GAO found that the VA’s sufficiently documented its best-value determination and that it provided a sufficient basis to conclude that Cognosante’s quotation offered the best value to the government. The agency’s best value decision was found to be reasonable and consistent with RFQ’s evaluation criteria. For more information on post-award protests call Whitcomb, Selinsky PC and speak with one of our experienced Government Contracts attorneys.

About the AuthorRaymundo Ribota

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