An agency must give equal weight to all applicants of a government contract. That is the conclusion that must be drawn after the General Accounting Office ruled that the U.S. Air Force incorrectly awarded a contract. The Air Force weighed an application from a company that said it would retain the employees of the current contractor, but it did not give the same benefit to the existing contractor in their bids evaluation.
SURVICE Engineering Company, LLC was the incumbent contractor. It provided engineering, program management, and administrative services at Eglin Air Force Base. Engineering Research and Consulting, Inc. planned to hire as many of SURVICE’s employees as possible if awarded the contract.
During the evaluation, the Air Force stated that SURVICE had “high-performing, highly-skilled senior staff,” and the Air Force would benefit if Engineering Research hired those employees. The Air Force gave extra weight to Engineering Research because it planned to hire many of the current staff. It was awarded the contract, but no extra weight was awarded to SURVICE.
SURVICE protested the award due to an improper bids evaluation, and the GAO heard the case. The company argued that the award was improper, because the Air Force did not to give extra weight to SURVICE for retaining current employees. The GAO agreed.
It wrote: “[I]t is a fundamental principal of federal procurement law that a contracting agency must treat all offerers equally and evaluate their proposals evenhandedly against the solicitation’s requirements and evaluation criteria.”
It added: “[W]here the parties propose essentially the same workforce, and where the agency assessed strengths for the awardee’s efforts to retain the workforce and has not shown why it did not assign similar strengths to the protester’s proposal, we conclude that the agency applied the evaluation criteria unequally and therefore that the evaluation was unreasonable.”
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