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Counting error costs five companies shot at $20B contract

NASA nixed the proposals of five companies bidding on the $20 billion SEWP V contract because their proposals exceeded the page limit set in the solicitation.

In their protests, the companies argued that NASA shouldn’t have counted certain pages, but the Government Accountability Office agreed with the agency, and now those five companies are left out of the contract as it heads toward awards later this month.

The big lesson, and a painful one for these five, is to pay attention to the solicitations requirements and stick to them.

It might seem like a minor snafu, but it’s a big deal because the request for proposal is explicit about what the agency wants in its proposals. Violate those requirements, and you’ll find yourself on the outside looking in.

The five protesters in question are: IMPRES Technology Solutions, Metis Intellisystems LLC, Futron Inc., Patriot Comm and Ideal Systems Solutions Inc.

NASA’s request for proposals said that volume two of the proposals should not exceed 90 pages, excluding a cover page and indices, deviations and exceptions, and tabs one and three. I’m not sure what is included in tabs one and three.

Any pages that exceed the 90-page limit would not be evaluated. What got these companies in trouble is that in tab six, they included 60 pages of letters of support from their suppliers. Tab six covers commitment to supply chain management and supply diversity.

The contracting officer counted these pages to determine compliance with the 90-page limit. When the CO hit 90 pages, she was only midway through the letters of support, so the CO didn’t consider the rest of tab six as well as tab seven (post award support and service) and tab 8 (management plan.) To make things worse, tab 8 was the most heavily weighted tab in volume two.

With those other sections kicked out, the CO determined that the proposals “contained a material omission,” so the proposals were deemed unacceptable and excluded them from further evaluation.

When the bidders were informed of this, they went to GAO, arguing that the pages with the letters of support were not numbered and should not have been counted toward the 90-page limit. The RFP said that pages needed to be numbered, and since these were not numbered they shouldn’t have been counted.

The letters of support were meant to be extra documents supporting the proposal, the companies argued.

In rejecting that position, GAO cited NASA’s response in the Industry Questions and Answers document it published as it was developing the RFP.

A question was posed asking if bidders could supply an appendix of referenceable documents that would be outside the page limits.

NASA was clear in its answer: “No, reference documentation is included in the page limitations.”

GAO agreed with NASA’s position that the protesters arguments would render the RFP’s page limitation superfluous.

GAO also said, “An agency is not obligated to sort through an offeror’s proposal to decide which pages should or should not be counted toward that limitation.”

The protesters argued that NASA should have talked to them before rejecting their proposals.

But GAO also rejected this argument as well because NASA isn’t required to allow bidders to revise proposals after they are submitted. The RFP made it clear that clarifications are to be limited and only in cases where NASA is planning an award.

GAO also said that the intentions of the bidders were not clear, given the RFP and the proposals themselves.

NASA SEWP is one of the more successful contracts for IT hardware and related services in the market. This is a definite disappointment for these companies.

But their loss and the GAO decision offer a powerful lesson and reminder to the rest of the market: Pay attention to the RFPs requirements. If they say 90 pages, it’s 90 pages. If they say blue paper, print it on blue paper.

Don’t count on the agency to interpret what you mean or what you intended.

In this case, NASA was evaluating 233 proposals, so compliance is critical. Exceeding the page limit is low hanging fruit for a contracting officer looking for ways to narrow the field.

You have to make every page count, but you also have to count your pages.

SEWP V is still in source selection; awards are expected this month.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 07, 2014 at 9:48 AM


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