Ordinarily, whether an offeror’s proposed personnel actually perform under a contract is a non-protestable matter of contract administration. But GAO will consider the issue when an offeror proposes personnel that it did not have a reasonable basis to expect to provide during contract performance in order to obtain a more favorable evaluation. Such a “bait and switch” amounts to a material misrepresentation that undermines the integrity of the procurement and evaluation.
That’s exactly what happened in a recent protest, where the GAO disqualified the awardee from competition after determining that its proposal misrepresented the incumbent employees’ availability to continue working under the contract.
At issue in Patricio Enterprises, Inc., B-412738 et al. (May 26, 2016) was a task order solicitation to provide support for five product management teams for the Marine Corps’ Program Manager, Infantry Weapons Systems. Patricio and Knowledge Capital Associates (“KCA”) were each incumbents for some of these requirements under different existing task orders. The solicitation combined those services and contracts into one procurement.
The solicitation had three evaluation criteria: Management and Staffing Capability, Past Performance, and Price. The first (and most important) factor was comprised of two subfactors (Management and Staffing Capability). Under the Staffing Capability subfactor, offerors were required to provide a detailed approach to staffing that met the PWS requirements, and to provide detailed information (such as labor qualifications, proposed labor categories, and organizational structure) for its key personnel and other staff. The agency would then evaluate this subfactor by reviewing the “capabilities, qualifications, and experience of each offeror’s proposed key personnel” and the processes, resources, and organizational structure necessary to support the PWS tasks. The Government would also evaluate the offeror’s “approach to providing staffing necessary to achieve full performance by month five[.]”
Patricio and KCA timely submitted offerors, which were rated equally under the Management and Staffing Capability and Past Performance factors. Because KCA’s price was almost $5 million less than Patricio’s, KCA was named the awardee.
After Patricio’s attorneys obtained a copy of KCA’s proposal (probably as part of the Agency Report responding to Patricio’s initial protest), Patricio challenged KCA’s staffing approach. KCA, in short, touted its ability to begin work on “day one without missing a beat[.]” KCA further promised 100% staffing on “the very next day” following expiration of the existing support contracts.
KCA’s aggressive transition plan was based in part on KCA’s representations that it would employ incumbent personnel under its award. KCA went so far as to claim it had “signed contingent offers for select personnel” working for other companies (including Patricio) under incumbent contracts, and that these individuals “will be available at the immediate start of the Task Order.”
These representations, though, were (at best) misleading. Patricio produced sworn statements from its employees that were specifically named in KCA’s proposal, in which each person “stated that he or she had not been contacted by the awardee regarding potential employment for the PM IWS task order prior to the time for submission of proposals.”
In its own comments, KCA did not dispute these sworn declarations. Instead, KCA justified its proposal on the basis of discussions with Patricio employees, which led KCA to believe that the Patricio personnel identified in its proposal “would likely be willing to work for KCA in the event it was awarded the task order.” KCA claimed that its reference to “signed contingent offer letters” was misunderstood: according to KCA, this reference simply meant that the letters were prepared and signed by KCA’s president, not that the prospective personnel had signed them (or were even aware of them).
GAO found KCA’s reference to “signed contingent offers” and “signed contingent employment letters” to be an attempt to mislead the agency about KCA’s readiness to perform. GAO wrote that these references “appear purposefully crafted to convey that there had been communications with the individuals in question.” KCA’s apparent intent to later attempt to hire these individuals did not excuse this misrepresentation because “regardless of KCA’s intent to hire the individuals named in the proposal, the proposal misrepresented the commitment of the non-KCA employees to work for the awardee.”
KCA’s misrepresentation, moreover, impacted the Marine Corps’ evaluation. According to GAO, KCA earned a strength for its staffing approach and transition approach, which was based in part on KCA’s “approach to providing personnel, including key personnel, who would be capable of performing the work, and would be available at the start of performance.” Absent KCA’s pledge to provide incumbent staffing, it is unlikely that it would have been assessed such a strength.
GAO sustained Patricio’s protest. It also recommended that KCA be excluded from the competition:
[E]xclusion of an offeror from a competition is warranted where it made a material misrepresentation in its proposal and where the agency’s reliance on the misrepresentation had a material effect on the evaluation results. As our Office has stated, where an offeror’s material misrepresentation has a material effect on a competition, the integrity of the procurement system “demands no less” than the remedy of exclusion.
Patricio serves as a cautionary reminder: though offerors might want to increase their chances of award by hyping (or puffing) their abilities, going too far might amount to material misrepresentations. Here, the GAO found that KCA crossed the line–and deserved to be excluded.