A recent protest decision published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is a must-read for any federal contracting officer purchasing professional services off the GSA Schedules. In the matter of AllWorld Language Consultants, Inc. (B-411481.3), the protestor AllWorld argued that the GSA, acting on behalf of the Air Force, improperly awarded a task order for linguistic support services to SOS International, Ltd. (SOSI). The GAO sustained AllWorld’s protest. It also recommended GSA terminate the task order to SOSI and reimburse AllWorld for all costs associated with its protest.
Results like this are uncommon in bid protests and should not be ignored. Acquisition professionals need to understand the mistake the ordering agency made so as not to repeat it. The primary issue was SOSI’s GSA contract labor category descriptions. Companies selling professional services under the GSA Schedules are required to provide a description for each awarded labor category that includes the minimum education and experience required of personnel performing that position. It also includes functional responsibilities for the category.
In AllWorld, the functional responsibilities were of particular importance. The solicitation stated that the linguists provided under the order must meet a number of requirements, including translating conversations in real time and “expressing themselves…orally and in writing in English and the local language.” AllWorld argued that the labor category SOSI proposed did not meet these technical specifications. Although GSA argued that no labor category description could match the requirements of the solicitation exactly, the GAO agreed with AllWorld. The fact that SOSI addressed the requirements in its technical proposal was irrelevant because the proposed labor category was insufficient.
The critical finding in the decision is that a labor category awarded on a GSA contract has a “fixed, discrete, specific…description that [is] contractually binding and not subject to alteration.” This description performs in the same way a technical specification does for a product. If the offered GSA labor category descriptions do not meet the requirements of a solicitation, a proposal using them is not technically responsive.
This decision is important for federal acquisition professionals to understand. All companies with GSA contracts are required to publish their pricelists on the GSA Advantage! website. You can be certain that savvy contractors will be checking their competitors’ labor category descriptions to ensure they are technically responsive from now on. You need to do the same to make certain your agency doesn’t end up paying an unsuccessful bidder’s legal fees.
Jennifer Aubel is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.