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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Lessons from the Pragmatics-Avaya protest decision

A contract to provide litigation support services to the Navy came down to a protest battle between Avaya Government Solutions and Pragmatics Inc., a prime and its former teammate.

The Government Accountability Office sided with Pragmatics and denied Avaya’s protest.

The deciding factor for GAO was that Pragmatics offered a stronger staffing and transitions plan.

Pragmatics' proposal included commitments from all of its personnel and its teammates, while Avaya provided commitments for some level above the 36 full-time-equivalents required in the solicitation. The level of commitments Avaya provided in its proposals is redacted from the GAO decision.

Avaya’s plan also included the need to transition or replace what GAO called critical personnel before the start of the new contract.

The difference between the two approaches was a deciding factor for the Navy in picking Pragmatics for contract, even though Pragmatics bid $36.8 million, compared to Avaya’s $34.8 million. The Navy saw Pragmatics' proposal as less risky.

Avaya protested, arguing that the Navy used unstated evaluation criteria. Both Avaya and Pragmatics met the minimum requirements stated in the solicitation.

Interestingly, Avaya may have had a successful argument if the contract award were based on a low-price, technically acceptable criteria. But it wasn’t.

The Navy was well within its bounds when it scored Pragmatics higher on its staffing plan, so GAO rejected Avaya’s bid.

According to GAO, the solicitation stated that the award would be made on a best-value basis, and non-price factors were more important than price.

Another interesting twist to this story is that Avaya was the incumbent on the predecessor contract supporting the Navy in a legal fight between the United States and Iran involving pre-1981 contracts. Pragmatics was one of Avaya’s teammates.

So, this was a fight between two former partners, who likely knew each other well. And it’s another indication of the tight competitive environment in today’s market.

This decision also points out the tough position companies find themselves in as they build teams and write proposals.

GAO isn't saying that Pragmatics had a slam dunk or that Avaya's proposal was weak; it was just that Pragmatics' was better in the customer's eyes. It is a fine line between winning and losing.

As an outsider looking in, it seems the challenge is determining where your proposals might have weak spots or where they are strongest, while at the same time trying to discern strengths and weaknesses of your competitor.

The first is in your control, while the other isn't. And there is the rub.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 05, 2015 at 9:34 AM

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