When proposal discussions offer an unfair advantage

When proposal discussions offer an unfair advantage

During the proposal process, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander — meaning that if communication between the agency and the offeror results in changing a proposal, then all offerors must be given that same opportunity to resubmit. Whether agencies always comply with this rules is questionable.

Protesting contractor: Standard Communications Inc., Hume, Va.

Contracting agency: General Services Administration

Protest issue: Whether communication that leads to material changes in proposals provides an unfair advantage.

GAO decision, Jan. 24, 2012: Sustained.

Post-mortem: One of the most common grounds for bid protests is that an agency engaged in misleading discussions or had discussions with one offeror and not another. In this case, the GSA notified Fairfax-based Advanced Systems Inc. and another company that their proposals were unacceptable and allowed them to make changes. They did not give SCI the same opportunity to revise its proposal.

This fact made the case an easy one for GAO, who promptly sustained the protest.

The usual defense used by government agencies, and used by the GSA in this case, is that they did not engage in discussions, but merely sought clarification to an unclear portion of the proposal. The fact that this defense is so often used begs the question: how often does it occur without being discovered?

The GAO decision does not say how SCI knew that the other two offerors had been given the opportunity to change their proposals. But the lesson to other companies is clear: keep a watchful eye to ensure competitors don’t get thrown an extra bone.