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Can Incumbent KTR get higher Past Performance Eval Rating?

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In ABSG Consulting, Inc., B-407956, B-407956.2 (Apr. 18, 2013), the GAO held that an offeror who is the incumbent contractor is not entitled to "extra credit" in its past performance evaluation rating just for being the incumbent. See http://www.gao.gov/products/B-407956,B-407956.2.

But the GAO did not address this question: can the government choose to, if it wants to, give "extra credit" to an offeror for its past performance rating, or any other evaluation factor, such as the technical approach factor, corporate experience factor, just for being the incumbent, and therefore, the offeror who is most familiar with the current workings of that government agency? Would the GAO consider this "reasonable"?

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It would not be reasonable for the government to rate an offeror more highly than other offerors merely because of the fact of its status as the incumbent contractor. I can see rating the offeror more highly if its incumbency gives it more relevant experience than other offerors, or because its incumbency would result in lower total costs to the government, perhaps by enabling the government to avoid the costs of a change from one company to another. But I cannot see rating an offeror more highly merely because it is the incumbent, without regard to the value of that incumbency to the government.

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With regard to the recognition of the benefits of incumbency unrelated to the contents of a proposal, see Quest Diagnostics, Inc., B-405081.5, Dec 19, 2012:

“In response, the agency explains that Quest’s proposal did not receive a technical capability rating of excellent because it did not demonstrate the superior understanding and exceptional strengths required for such a rating.1 In the foregoing connection, the contracting officer (who served as the SSA) noted as follows:

Instead of adequately describing its understanding of the requirements of the performance work statement and describing its technical approach for performing the required services in a manner that would justify a higher adjectival rating under the solicitation, Quest mainly referred to its status as the incumbent. Since the technical proposal submitted by Quest only met the definition of “Good” in the solicitation, I rated its technical proposal as “Good” and did not use my personal beliefs concerning the technical capabilities of Quest to increase the technical rating. . . . Quest did not receive an “Excellent” rating for Factor 1 because its technical proposal did not demonstrate a superior understanding of the requirement listed in the solicitation and its technical proposal did not have several exceptional strengths that would significantly benefit the government.

Contracting Officer’s Statement, Oct. 25, 2012, at 7.

Although Quest argues at length that the information in its proposal concerning its status as the incumbent should have been viewed more favorably, and resulted in a higher rating under the technical capability factor, Quest’s arguments in this regard reflect nothing more than disagreement with the agency’s judgment that its proposal warranted a rating of good rather than excellent. Accordingly, we have no basis to find the agency’s evaluation in this regard unreasonable.2

2 Quest repeatedly cites Johnson Controls Security Sys., B-296490, B-296490.2, Aug. 29, 2005, 2007 CPD ¶ 102, and Systems Research and Applications Corp.; Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., B-299818 et al., Sept. 6, 2007, 2008 CPD ¶ 28 as authority for the proposition that an agency’s evaluation is inherently unreasonable where it fails to recognize the benefits associated with incumbency. Johnson Controls, however, stands for the proposition that where an agency identifies strengths associated with incumbency, it is improper for the agency to fail to consider those strengths in its comparison of proposals--it does not stand for the proposition that the agency is required to identify strengths associated with incumbency in the first place. Likewise, contrary to the protester’s position, Systems Research does not stand for the proposition that we will sustain a protest where an agency fails to assess the real advantages attributable to an offeror’s incumbency; it stands for the proposition that we will sustain a protest where the record fails to demonstrate that the source selection officials reasonably considered identified differences between proposals.”

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Thanks, Vern and Napolik.

So it looks like the government agency must document specifically what is the value or benefit of having the incumbent again.

Say an agency is evaluating proposals for an IT services contract.

If one of the evaluation factors is KEY PERSONNEL, it should be reasonable and fair to consider it a STRENGTH that the Incumbent Offeror is proposing to use the same employees it has been using on the incumbent contract, folks who are most familiar with the agency's organizational culture, IT environment, etc, right?

If there is an evaluation factor for TECHNICAL APPROACH, and it logically encompasses Transition (Phase In, Phase Out from the incumbent to the successor contractor), it should be reasonable and fair to consider it a STRENGTH that the Incumbent Offeror proposes to not have to do any Transition at all, right?

For the PRICE factor, the reality is, other Non-Incumbent Offerors will have to factor the cost of Transition (Phase In) into their Price Proposals, but the Incumbent Offeror will of course have an advantage in that it will not have any Transition (Phase In) cost at all, thereby making it likely to have the lowest total price. Thoughts?

Should the government agency have to level the playing field somehow in its evaluation? It appears GAO says no, they don't:

"A particular offeror may possess unique advantages and capabilities due to its prior experience under a government contract or otherwise and the government is not required to attempt to equalize competition to compensate for it, unless there is evidence of preferential treatment or other improper action. Crux Computer Corp., B-234143, May 3, 1989, 89-1 CPD ¶ 422 at 5. The existence of this advantage, by itself does not constitute preferential treatment by the agency, nor does it otherwise represent an unfair competitive advantage. Government Bus. Servs. Group, B-287052 et al., Mar. 27, 2001, 2001 CPD ¶ 58 at 10."

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If one of the evaluation factors is KEY PERSONNEL, it should be reasonable and fair to consider it a STRENGTH that the Incumbent Offeror is proposing to use the same employees it has been using on the incumbent contract, folks who are most familiar with the agency's organizational culture, IT environment, etc, right?

No! Not right. "Key Personnel" is not a complete evaluation factor. "Key Personnel" tells me what you are going to evaluate. It does not tell me what attributes key personnel must have in order to be valuable. Is one of the attributes "Currently employed as a key person by the incumbent"? Now why would that be valuable? Would it be because such people are already familiar with the agency's organizational structure, etc.? If so, then the evaluation factor is "Familiarity of Proposed Key Personnel with Org. Structure, etc." You then evaluate proposed key personnel on that basis. It may be that someone who had worked for the incumbent on the job for five years, retired six months ago, and is now proposed by a competitor of the incumbent is more familiar with the org. structure, etc., than the person who was hired as her replacement two months ago and is currently employed.

See? In any case, what is a "strength"? Is it their status as an employee of the incumbent or is it the degree to which they are familiar with things? If the former, then the agency source selection planners are stupid. If the latter, then maybe the competitor gets the strength, not the incumbent.

Think.

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can the government choose to, if it wants to, give "extra credit" to an offeror for its past performance rating, or any other evaluation factor, such as the technical approach factor, corporate experience factor, just for being the incumbent, and therefore, the offeror who is most familiar with the current workings of that government agency ?

It's all in how you write up the evaluation scheme.

If retaining the Incumbent or their personnel is more important than getting the best mix of performance and price, then let your Eval Criteria / Factors do the talking.

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