NCI protest falls short

NCI argued several points in its protest of a $122 million DOD contract, but it lost on each, proving again the difficult challenge of overcoming a well-documented award decision.

In February, I wrote about how NCI Information Systems was battling a non-profit for a $122 million Defense Department contract.

Well, the results are in, and it didn’t go well for NCI. They had challenged the agency’s technical evaluation, past performance evaluation and best-value determination. The Government Accountability Office sided with DOD on each count.

In my February post, I questioned how a non-profit entity, in this case, the American Society of Engineering Education and a for-profit entity could compete for the same contract. It seemed to me that the non-profit would hold some sort of advantage in that it didn’t have the same profit pressures as a for-profit.

As several commenters pointed out, the competition between for-profits and non-profits for these kinds of support services is not new, and that question was never raised in the protest.

NCI and ASEE were incumbent contractors supporting DOD’s SMART Program which manages scholarships and other programs to increase training in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. NCI provided program support while ASEE provided administrative support. This time around, DOD decided to combine the two contracts into a single vehicle.

While this contract was not a lowest-price, technically-acceptable award, the competition did come down to price at the end.

Both NCI and ASEE received the same scores for the non-price factors of technical approach, past performance and staffing plan. So, the decision on the best value for the government rode on price. ASEE bid $122.7 million, compared to NCI’s $126.3 million.

NCI argued that the best-value evaluation was flawed because NCI should have received higher scores that ASEE on the non-price factors, particularly in the area of past performance.

The past performance evaluation described in the GAO decision is interesting. Both NCI and ASEE are incumbent contractors on the contract known as the SMART program. DOD’s source selection authority found that the quality of NCI’s past performance was superior, but ASEE’s had greater relevance.

“NCI does … fewer things but they do them well. ASEE does more things but they them acceptable,” according to the GAO decision.

GAO also found that the SSA had properly documented his conclusion about the past performance and the best value award to ASEE.

GAO also ruled against NCI’s objection to the evaluation of its technical proposal and the staffing plan. NCI felt it should have received higher ratings in those areas, but GAO said DOD’s evaluation was reasonable.

That’s what we often see in bid protests that are denied by GAO. It is a big challenge for protesters show that an agency’s actions are not reasonable, especially when the agency can document the steps it took to reach its decision.

Agencies get in trouble when they fail to document. In this case, they did document, and NCI just couldn’t clear the hurdle.