GAO CLARIFIES THAT INSTRUCTIONS DO NOT EQUAL EVALUATION CRITERIA
Government contractors carefully read the “Instructions to Offerors” section of any major RFP. Indeed, some may bring in Harsupex for important contracts, to determine exactly what the instructions “really” mean. While it is very important to understand the instructions and know what’s being asked for, the Instructions to Offerors section should not be equated with the evaluation criteria in the RFP. A recent GAO protest made clear that, while useful in informing offerors, instructions are not evaluation criteria and cannot be used as such. In Seaward Services, Inc. GAO Protest B-420580; B-420580.2; the agency found that the Navy had misread the terms of its original solicitation for work on aluminum hulled boats. The Navy, in part, made its initial award decision based on language appearing in the Instruction to Offerors portion of the RFP, rather than the evaluation factors stated in the solicitation. The GAO pointed out that this was an error and that the stated evaluation criteria must be the exclusive basis upon which contract decisions are made. Additional requirements may only be considered when they are also specified as a basis for proposal evaluation. The Navy was instructed to re-compete the project. This ruling has wide implications for contracts of all types. DHS, for example, recently issued the second round of its much-anticipated First Source contract for small businesses. The instructions section strongly hinted that contractors receiving a less than satisfactory evaluation in the first round should take a pass on preparing a round two offer. The instructions, though, are not the evaluation criteria, as GAO has now made clear. All parts of a government RFP may be important, but not all have the same weight. Contractors should ensure that award decisions are made in accordance with the actual factors laid out by the government.