We posted our brief comment on a Judge Bush opinion on September 28, 2011. We also referred to it when we wrote about another Judge Bush opinion on January 15, 2012. We now invite you to read the best treatise published to date on best value procurements and it is found at www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/firstline.pdf. This is the 79 page published opinion of Judge Bush in FirstLine Transportation Security, Inc. v. United States, U.S. Court of Federal Claims No. 11-375 C (September 27,2011). Judge Bush covers everything you need to know about best value tradeoffs, proper source selection evaluations and decisions, proper use of evaluation factors, the impropriety of turning best value tradeoff procurements into lowest price, technically acceptable awards, and how best value decisions must be made and documented.
The price of the successful awardee was 16% lower than the protester FirstLine’s price. FirstLine’s technical ratings included 33 strengths and no weaknesses whereas the successful awardee had 1 strength and 1 weakness. Yet the SSEB concluded that the higher technical merit offered by FirstLine did not justify the price differential because the successful awardee offered “an acceptable level of technical competence". Judge Bush said this “had the effect of converting the best-value procurement contemplated under the RFP into one based on low price and mere technical acceptability.” Essentially, the SSEB converted best value into LPTA. She went on to show that FAR 15.101-1 and 15.101-2(b)(1) contain entirely different procurement methods. Judge Bush then pointed out the SSEB was required under FAR 15.308 to properly document its tradeoff analysis, which it did not do. Although FAR 15.308 applies to the SSA, not the SSEB, since the SSA merely adopted the SSEB’s conclusion, the SSEB was obliged to meet the documentation requirements of FAR 15.308.
In documenting the tradeoff analysis, she said the SSEB report contained nothing more than conclusory assertions based on flawed premises. The report did not compare the competing proposals in any meaningful way. It did not address the relative benefits and disadvantages of the competing proposals and it did not explain why a higher-priced, but technically superior proposal does not merit its higher price. “The government cannot simply declare that a price premium is not justified by a superior technical proposal without some substantive discussion of why that is so.”
“Thus, when selecting a low-price technically inferior proposal in a best-value procurement where non price factors are more important than price, it is not sufficient for the government to simply state that a proposal’s technical superiority is not worth the payment of a price premium. Instead, the government must explain specifically why it does not warrant a premium.”
Judge Bush also noted that, with only one minor exception, there is no evidence the SSEB even considered the relative weight of the evaluation factors which had been stated in descending order of importance with all other factors more important than price. The successful awardee and the government argued the government was free to disregard the evaluation factors as long as the evaluation of the proposals was reasonable. We can almost hear her banging her gavel: “That is not the law.”
Judge Bush then takes on the SSA’s decision. The decision making requirement is in FAR 15.308, which she quotes. First the SSA must reach an independent award decision based on a comparative assessment of the proposals against all of the criteria set forth in the solicitation. Then, the SSA must document an independent award decision. “Here, the SSA’s documentation is limited to her adoption of the SSEB report and her otherwise unsupported statement that [the successful awardee’s] proposal represents the best value to the government.” Again, you can almost hear the gavel. The SSA must document the rationale for any business judgments and tradeoffs made or relied on by the SSA. The express language of FAR requires the SSA to exercise independent judgment and document that judgment. “Here, the SSA should have explained why the FirstLine proposal was not worth its higher price, notwithstanding its substantial technical superiority.”
The remedy? Do it over and do it right. Injunction issued.
· Scrub the evaluation factors. Make sure they comply with FAR 15.304.
· Scrutinize the SSEB’s report to make sure it complies with FAR 15.305
· Scrutinize the SSA’s decision to make sure it complies with FAR 15.308.
· It’s against the law to take a best value tradeoff procurement and turn it into a LPTA.
We urge you to read Judge Bush’s opinion in FirstLine. It will tell you everything you need to know about how best value tradeoff procurements are supposed to work and it will tell you they are a far cry from LPTA’s.