ICF fails to win second shot at Army cyber contract

ICF has lost a second chance to keep an incumbent contract for cyber research-and-development work after the Army defended its pick of a lower-priced bidder.

When your evaluated price is nearly $40 million higher than your competitor’s, that’s a tough hurdle to clear.

That hurdle becomes nearly impossible when the lower priced competitor has a proposal that was described as a “more beneficial approach."

ICF found itself in that situation when the Army picked Leidos for research-and-development work that supports cyber operations and safety functions.

Leidos’ evaluated price came out at $137.2 million and ICF’s was $175.6 million. Adding some salt to the wound is the fact that ICF was the incumbent contractor.

ICF filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. In its decision, GAO sided with the Army and denied the protest.

ICF's objections were over key personnel, disparate technical evaluations, mistakes in how the realism of proposed costs was evaluated and how the Army decided what was best value as the solicitation required.

On the best value argument, ICF said the Army essentially treated the contract as a lowest-cost, technically acceptable evaluation. GAO instead said source selection officials have broad discretion. The Army also argued they followed the process described in the solicitation.

GAO's decision also explains how the Army wants to buy research-and-development servicesn then have a mechanism for transitioning the R&D to cyber operations. The Army found Leidos’ proposal was just slightly more beneficial.

When that finding was coupled with the lower price, the Army couldn’t justify ICF’s higher evaluated price, according to the decision.

GAO ruled against ICF on the other challenges as well. For example, ICF objected to the way its evaluated price was determined. But GAO said ICF didn’t sufficiently document some of the reasoning behind its pricing, particularly the escalation of pricing in the out years of the contract.

But GAO also said that it wouldn’t have made any difference because its price was still significantly higher.

On the risk ratings, ICF said that the two companies received the same overall score of “no worse than moderate.” As the incumbent, ICF basically said it should have received a better risk score based on its track record.

Because it didn’t get a better risk score, it couldn’t receive a higher technical score than Leidos. But GAO said there was no evidence that its risk score affected its technical score.

Putting the price difference aside, this protest should be a lesson to agencies. For every challenge that ICF issued in its protest, the Army had an answer and had documented each of its decisions. Or the Army could point to the solicitation and say that is why we did it this way.

Then add back in the price difference, and it would take a small miracle for ICF to win this protest.

In its conclusion, GAO talks about how the “record demonstrates” the basis for the Army decision and how the source selection authority cited “specific examples of unique attributes” in each proposal.

A documented award decision is hard for any protestor to overcome.