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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Page limits undo TetraTech bid protest

The message is clear in TetraTech’s lost protest decision – if a solicitation has page limits, you better follow them.

TetraTech filed a protest after Dell Services Federal Government won a $51.1 million contract to provide IT services to the National Science Foundation.

Dell had already won the contract once, but a protest with the Government Accountability Office caused NSF to take a corrective action. As part of the corrective action, NSF asked bidders to resubmit portions of their proposals.

TetraTech’s resubmittal exceeded the page limit for the Volume 1 set in solicitation The page limit was 35, and TetraTech submitted 47 pages. The first 19 pages were the management approach and the rest was the technical approach, but evaluators only looked at 17 pages because by that point the submittal had hit the 35-page limit.

For the management approach, TetraTech sored Very Good, as did Dell. But for the technical approach, TetraTech scored Unsatisfactory, compared to Dell’s Satisfactory score.

That low score was a critical factor in NSF picking Dell over TetraTech.

TetraTech argued that the agency held misleading discussions because they were led to believe the revisions wouldn’t count against the page limit.

But NSF countered that the instructions sent to the bidders were clear.

Dell actually asked the question about whether the page limits were still in force for the resubmittals and was told "Yes."

GAO also rejected the argument that because NSF told Dell, they also should have told TetraTech. TetraTech was on notice that the limits applied and that Dell was asking for relief from those limits and was rejected. GAO said that is not unequal treatment.

Other arguments GAO rejected included the evaluation of key personnel and how weaknesses were assigned to its proposal.

But the issue with the page limits stands out because there are several indications in the GAO decision that TetraTech may well have had a better proposal, given that it scored well in other areas.

However, the mistake with the page limits rendered TetraTech’s bid “unawardable.”

It might seem unfair, but is it? Is it right for agencies to be so strict with page limits? On an individual basis, I lean towards no, but if you think about the volume of solicitations, you can make an argument that agencies need to enforce discipline.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 26, 2016 at 9:26 AM

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