In One Largo Metro LLC et al., B-404896 (June 20, 2011), GAO sustained protests by three disappointed offerors, challenging GSA’s award regarding a lease of office space in suburban Maryland for the Department of Health and Human Services. Crowell & Moring attorneys represented King Farm Associates, LLC (“King Farm”), one of the protesters. 

In sustaining the protests, GAO found that the Head of the Contracting Activity (“HCA”) rejected the lower-level evaluators’ conclusions without articulating an adequate basis for doing so. The Agency’s source selection evaluation board (“SSEB”) had initially recommended award to King Farm. The source selection authority (“SSA”), however, raised concerns about the SSEB’s rationale for its ratings and directed it to reevaluate its recommendation. After a second evaluation that identified numerous technical differences between the proposals, the SSEB again recommended award to King Farm. The SSA, despite disagreement with the SSEB’s conclusion about the relative technical merits of the offerors, adopted the recommendation. The HCA then reviewed the SSA’s source selection decision. Rejecting the ultimate conclusions of the SSEB and SSA, the HCA summarily decided that Fishers Lane presented the best value to the Government.

Although GAO acknowledged the well-settled rule that source selection officials are not bound by the recommendations of lower-level evaluators, GAO found that the HCA failed to meaningfully consider not only a number of evaluated differences between the proposals, but also “considerable disagreement between the SSEB and the SSA concerning the relative merits of the proposals.” Instead, GAO determined that the HCA mechanically compared the percentages of adjectival ratings assigned to each offer by the SSEB and issued a conclusory pronouncement that Fishers Lane represented the best value to the government. GAO concluded: “In the absence of a documented, meaningful consideration of the technical differences between the offerors’ proposals, the HCA could not perform a reasonable tradeoff analysis.” 

GAO also sustained King Farm’s challenge to GSA’s evaluation of proposals under the access to amenities subfactor. The solicitation provided that offerors’ proposals would be evaluated for both the “quantity and variety” of specified amenities within a certain distance of the proposed office space, but GAO found that GSA improperly deviated from this requirement by considering only the amount of amenity categories