Qwest Government Services, Inc. d/b/a CenturyLink QGS


DOCUMENT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE
The decision issued on the date below was subject to a GAO Protective Order. This version has been approved for public release.

Decision

Matter of:  Qwest Government Services, Inc. d/b/a CenturyLink QGS

File:  B-419271.4; B-419271.7

Date:  April 14, 2021

Shelly L. Ewald, Esq., Zahra S. Abrams, Esq., Robert Shaia, Esq., and Emily C. Brown, Esq., Watt Tieder Hoffar & Fitzgerald, LLP, for the protester.
Jonathan M. Baker, Esq., Christian N. Curran, Esq., Alexandra L. Barbee-Garrett, Esq., and Rina M. Gashaw, Esq., Crowell & Moring LLP, for AT&T Corp., an intervenor.
Peter G. Hartman, Esq., and Brian C. Habib, Esq., Department of Homeland Security, for the agency.
Louis A. Chiarella, Esq., Emily R. O’Hara, Esq., and Peter H. Tran, Esq., Office of the General Counsel, GAO, participated in the preparation of the decision.

DIGEST

1.  Protest challenging the agency’s evaluation of the protester’s technical proposal is denied where the agency’s evaluation was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria, and without prejudice to the protester.

2.  Protest alleging the agency failed to engage in proper discussions with the protester is denied where the protester fails to demonstrate that it was prejudiced as a result thereof.

3.  Protest alleging that the agency’s corrective action subsequent to the initial award decision was unfair and unequal is denied where the corrective action did not treat offerors unequally and did not permit any offeror to revise its proposal.

Qwest Government Services, Inc. d/b/a CenturyLink QGS (CenturyLink), of Monroe, Louisiana, protests the issuance of task orders to AT&T Corp., of Oakton, Virginia, under fair opportunity request for proposals (RFP) No. 70RTAC20R00000026, issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for DHS headquarters core data (HQCD) requirements.  The protesters contend that the agency’s evaluation of offerors’ task order proposals and resulting award decision were improper.

We deny the protest.

BACKGROUND

The DHS is in the process of modernizing its information technology services and capabilities, with the goal of “improve[ing] network and telecommunications service delivery across the Department. . . .”  Agency Report (AR), Tab 7d, Statement of Work (SOW) at 13; see Contracting Officer’s Statement (COS) at 2.  To support its network transition, transformation, and modernization efforts, DHS developed the HQCD requirements SOW here.  Specifically, “DHS seeks to acquire, or have the option to acquire in the future,” the following:  virtual private network service; ethernet transport service; optical wavelength service; private line service; internet protocol service; internet protocol voice service; managed network service; managed trusted internet protocol service; access arrangements; cable and wiring service; dark fiber service; modernize to a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN); trusted internet connection and policy enforcement point; web conferencing service; and circuit switch voice service.  SOW at 13.

The RFP was issued on June 24, 2020, to holders of General Services Administration (GSA) Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) governmentwide acquisition contracts, pursuant to the procedures of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) subpart 16.5.[1]  AR, Tab 7, RFP at 4.[2]  The solicitation contemplated the issuance of four task orders, on a fixed-price with economic price adjustment, and a time-and-materials with economic price adjustment bases, for a base year with eleven 1-year options.[3]  RFP at 9, 63.  The RFP also established that task order award would be made on a best-value tradeoff basis, based on three evaluation factors in descending order of importance:  (1) performance management approach; (2) transition and modernization approach; and (3) price.  Id. at 76-77.  The non-price factors, when combined, were significantly more important than price.  Id. at 77.

AT&T and CenturyLink were among the offerors that submitted task order proposals by the July 27 closing date.  An agency technical evaluation team (TET) evaluated non-price proposals using the following adjectival rating scheme to assess the level of confidence of successful performance:  high confidence, some confidence, or low confidence.  A separate price evaluation team (PET) evaluated price proposals, in accordance with the solicitation, for accuracy, completeness, and reasonableness.  See RFP at 78.  On September 28, after completing its evaluation, the agency selected AT&T for four task order awards.  COS at 3.

On October 6, CenturyLink filed a protest with our Office challenging the evaluation and awards to AT&T.  The agency thereafter informed our Office that it planned to take corrective action by terminating the task orders issued to AT&T, reevaluating proposals, and making a new award decision; DHS also reserved the right to conduct discussions with offerors as part of its corrective action.  AR, Tab 27, DHS Notice of Corrective Action, B-419271, Nov. 9, 2020, at 1.  We thereafter dismissed the earlier CenturyLink protest as academic.  Qwest Gov’t Servs., Inc. d/b/a CenturyLink QGS, B-419271, Nov. 10, 2020 (unpublished decision).

On December 29, the agency completed its reevaluation, with the final evaluation ratings and prices of the AT&T and CenturyLink proposals as follows:

 

AT&T

CenturyLink

Performance Management Approach

High Confidence

Some Confidence

Transition and Modernization Approach

High Confidence

Some Confidence

Price

$306,183,079

$279,932,592

 

AR, Tab 15, Source Selection Decision Document (SSDD) at 3.

The agency evaluators also made narrative findings–identified as elements that increased the confidence of success, or elements that decreased the confidence of success–in support of the assigned ratings.  For example, with regard to the performance management approach factor (the most important of the solicitation’s evaluation criterion), the TET identified three elements that increased confidence in AT&T’s proposal, while finding three elements that decreased confidence in CenturyLink’s proposal.  AR, Tab 12, TET Report at 6-7.

On December 29, the agency’s source selection authority (SSA) received and reviewed the evaluation ratings and findings.  AR, Tab 15, SSDD at 1-9.  The SSA determined that AT&T’s technical advantages, as compared to CenturyLink’s proposal, outweighed CenturyLink’s price advantage, and thereby made AT&T the overall best value to the government.  Id. at 10-11.  On January 5, 2021, the agency issued the four task orders to AT&T.  COS at 4.  After requesting and receiving a debriefing, CenturyLink filed this protest with our Office on January 11.[4]  Id.

DISCUSSION

CenturyLink raises a multitude of issues regarding the agency’s evaluation and resulting award decision.  First, CenturyLink contends that DHS’s evaluation of the offeror’s technical proposal was unreasonable and inconsistent with the stated evaluation criteria.  CenturyLink also alleges the agency failed to hold meaningful, adequate, and equal discussions with it.  Lastly, the protester claims that the entirety of DHS’s corrective action was unequal and unfair, and engaged in only for the benefit of AT&T.  Had the agency performed a reasonable evaluation of CenturyLink’s proposal, or if proper discussions had occurred, CenturyLink argues, its proposal would have been represented the overall best solution to the government.  Protest at 14-29; Comments & Supp. Protest at 19-46.  Although we do not address all of the issues and arguments raised by CenturyLink, we have considered them all and find no basis on which to sustain the protest.

Technical Evaluation of CenturyLink

CenturyLink protests the agency’s technical evaluation.  Specifically, CenturyLink challenges the four instances where DHS found elements that decreased confidence in the offeror’s proposal under the two non-price factors; CenturyLink does not dispute any other aspect of its technical evaluation, nor the technical evaluation of AT&T.  Protest at 15-25; Comments & Supp. Protest at 20-37.

As stated above, the task order competition here was conducted pursuant to FAR subpart 16.5.  The evaluation of proposals in a task order competition is primarily a matter within the contracting agency’s discretion, because the agency is responsible for defining its needs and the best method of accommodating them.  NCI Info. Sys., Inc., B-418977, Nov. 4, 2020, 2020 CPD ¶ 362 at 5; Engility Corp., B-413120.3 et al., Feb. 14, 2017, 2017 CPD ¶ 70 at 15.  In reviewing protests of an award in a task order competition, we do not reevaluate proposals, but examine the record to determine whether the evaluation and source selection decision are reasonable and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria and applicable procurement laws and regulations.  DynCorp Int’l LLC, B-411465, B-411465.2, Aug. 4, 2015, 2015 CPD ¶ 228 at 7.  A protester’s disagreement with the agency’s judgment regarding the evaluation of proposals or quotations, without more, is not sufficient to establish that an agency acted unreasonably.  Engility Corp., supra at 16; Imagine One Tech. & Mgmt., Ltd., B-412860.4, B-412860.5, Dec. 9, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 360 at 4-5.  Our review indicates that the agency’s technical evaluation of CenturyLink was both reasonable and without prejudice to the protester.

For example, CenturyLink challenges the “decrease confidence” element assessed against its proposal under the transition and modernization approach factor.  Here, the RFP established the agency would evaluate the extent to which proposals:  (1) presented a clear understanding of the solicitation’s transition and modernization requirements; (2) provided a…



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