Offerors in best-value procurements are generally accustomed to a review of their complete proposals during the evaluation process.  The recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) decision in The COGAR Group, Ltd., B-413004 (July 22, 2016) highlights the ability of agencies to blend lowest-price technically-acceptable (LPTA) procurement principles into best-value procurements and thereby limit the scope of proposal evaluations.

The COGAR Group timely submitted a proposal in response to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) solicitation seeking to award an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract under FAR Part 12 for professional security services.  This procurement was structured as a best-value competition, but the solicitation also advised that the agency might not evaluate all technical proposals, and instead the agency might limit the competition to those proposals that were “most competitive” on price.  After receiving 19 proposals, DHS considered the mean ($42,501,995) and median ($42,752,035.66) proposal prices, and concluded that only proposals priced under $40,500,000 would proceed to technical evaluations and the ultimate best-value trade-off.

The COGAR Group’s price of $40,531,635 came in just over the threshold, excluding the company from the technical evaluations.  By comparison, the awardee’s price of $40,399,510 came in just under the threshold.  The COGAR Group protested, arguing that there was a difference of only $132,125 (0.3%) between the two offerors, and therefore it was impossible to assess which offeror presented the best value to the Government without a technical evaluation.

GAO disagreed, holding that the efficient competition provision of the solicitation put offerors on notice of this evaluation scheme and that DHS acted reasonably in determining “that any possible technical advantage of an unevaluated, higher-priced proposal would not warrant an additional price premium over a lower-priced proposal that had been assigned the highest possible technical rating.”  Although not referenced in the decision, the GAO’s decision appears consistent with a literal reading of FAR 15.306(c)(2), which permits “limit[ing] the number of proposals in the competitive range to the greatest number that will permit an efficient competition among the most highly rated proposals.”

GAO reached this conclusion despite arguments from the protestor that its proposal could also have received the highest possible technical rating and been a stronger technical solution when looking deeper than the overall adjectival rating.  It is theoretically possible that the protestor’s technical solution offered technical discriminators worth a 0.3% price premium. Instead, GAO agreed with DHS that it was not obligated to conduct that technical evaluation.