Having invested over 35 years in the business of government contracting, it is still a surprise, (although clearly it should not be!) how so many of the “basics” are ignored by competitors chasing a solicitation who then get upset when things do not turn out in their favor.
Among these basics are such concepts of knowing that only the government can define its needs, that due dates are firm, and that only a contracting officer has authority to commit the government.
Read and Understand the Instructions
Here, a competitor failed to follow the explicit instructions in a solicitation and was disqualified from further participation. Their protest to GAO was to no avail.
GSI Construction Corp. wanted to participate in a SDVOSB set-aside solicitation from the Air Force for construction services. The solicitation required that competitors upload their proposal to its DoD SAFE (Secure Access File Exchange). Mailing and hand delivery of electronic versions were acceptable delivery methods so that DoD could load it into the system.
Apparently, GSI believed it had completed the upload, but never received confirmation. Out of caution, they then emailed their proposal to the CO and specialist, which arrived one minute before the deadline. Since email was not a permitted submission method, and because the GSI proposal never found its way into DoD SAFE before the deadline, the AF rejected the proposal.
GAO found the government’s action reasonable. A competition, even under a set-aside, works only when everyone has the exact same opportunity to compete. When one of the competitors is given a “pass” on a stated requirement, this is unfair to the other competitors. It preserves the integrity of the entire procurement process to reject non-compliant submissions.
The Basic Lesson
In both performance and the solicitation process the government is entitled to strict compliance. Acquisition professionals have limited to no discretion in most cases, another significant difference between commercial and government acquisitions. When the government gives an explicit instruction, follow it precisely or you will be wasting a great deal of money on useless proposals.
GSI Construction Corp., B-418967 (Oct. 28, 2020)