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NIH CIOSP protest offers lessons for better proposals

The recently released GAO decision denying a protest by an 8(a) offers a window into the evaluation process NIH used for its on-ramp awards for the NIH CIOSP contract.

Biswas Information Technology Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Virginia, was understandably disappointed when it didn’t clear phase 1 of the evaluations and went to the Government Accountability Office to complain.

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Its protest described three main points:

  • NIH didn’t provide timely notice that BITS’ proposal was excluded from phase 2 of the competition.
  • NIH improperly evaluated the company’s technical proposal.
  • NIH didn’t give the same consideration to BITS’ proposal that it did to other proposals.

GAO denied the protest on all the grounds but the arguments for and against offer a lesson for bidders as they develop proposals.

In point number one, BTS complained that NIH never informed the company it didn’t advance to phase 2 of the competition. It wasn’t until after the awards were made that the company learned it had been eliminated from the competition.

NIH’s justification was that because they weren’t establishing a competitive range for the contract awards, it wasn’t obligated to tell companies they hadn’t advanced past phase 1. GAO agreed. It seems NIH is really thumbing their nose at the competitors with that kind of reasoning.

In its complaints about how its technical proposal was evaluated, BTS said that it provided the necessary information but NIH said that the information wasn’t specific enough to show that it could meet the requirements of the contract.

The big thing that was missing from NIH’s perspective was the “methodology and technical approach” BTS would use. The lesson here is that BTS’ proposal took too much of a high-level a view of how it would meet the technical requirements. Again, GAO agreed with NIH’s decision.

The last protest point is the one I found particularly noteworthy because BTS complained about another set of bidders who essentially used the same proposal. In fact, GAO notes that the only differences in their proposals were the names of the companies.

BTS claims that at least three other bidders used a template for their technical proposals.

“Despite their use of essentially identical language and graphics, the template proposals provided a technical approach that featured the firms’ reliance on a pool of experienced personnel with skills in specific areas relevant to performing tasks,” GAO wrote.

To their credit, NIH did market the templates as a weakness but it wasn’t enough to knock the companies out of the competition.

BTS argued that this showed they were being treated unfairly but GAO wrote that the solicitation didn’t ban the use of template proposals and the templates provided a reasonable basis for evaluators to conclude that the companies could meet the requirement of the contract.

The overarching lesson is that BTS’s narrative about its skills and capabilities just wasn’t detailed enough for NIH. The specifics weren’t there in a format that met the requirements. If BTS has passed that hurdle, its other complaints would not have become issues.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 15, 2019 at 11:58 AM


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