What Happens if References Don’t Complete Past Performance Questionnaires (PPQs)?

April 19, 2017

by Shelley Hall

This situation is discussed in a recent GAO bid protest, Genesis Design and Development, Inc., B-414254 (Feb. 28, 2017). The protestor alleged it was unfair for the government to reject their proposal because the required three PPQs were never completed by previous customers.

Past performance documentation of some kind is required in almost every government acquisition.  It is often considered an evaluation factor.  So contractors must provide “recent and relevant” past performance to be considered for some proposals.  The government often uses PPQs as a way to determine the offeror’s ability to perform a future contract.

What might happen if the government point of contact doesn’t bother to return a completed PPQ? As this GAO decision demonstrates, if the solicitation requires offerors to return completed PPQs, the agency is not required to contact government officials who don’t return the PPQs.

FAR 15.304(c)(3)(i) requires the agency to evaluate past performance in all source selections for negotiated competitive acquisitions expected to exceed the simplified acquisition threshold. The government has many tools to get past performance information.  They can use information provided in the proposal or check the Contractor Performance Assessment Reports System (CPARS).

PPQs have become a favorite way of gathering this information.  These PPQs are sent out to Contracting Officers, Contract Officer Representatives, Program Managers, etc., who have worked with the offeror in the past on previous acquisitions.  The person is requested to compete the PPQ and return it (1) to the offeror or (2) directly to the procuring agency.

So what’s the problem?  Well, first of all, there’s no requirement in the FAR that says the folks that are sent PPQs are required to respond.  All the folks in this process are busy people and completing forms is usually the last thing on their list.  If a PPQ is especially burdensome, it may simply be ignored.

Of course, there are also the issues or (1) sending the PPQ to the wrong person, (2) having a bad email address, (3) having the person respond to a bad email address, and (4) all the other possibilities that exist when computers are involved.

The solicitation from this particular protest required offerors to provide three completed PPQs from previous customers to demonstrate that the offerors had successfully completed all tasks related to the solicitation requirements. The solicitation allowed the agency to eliminate proposals lacking sufficient information for a meaningful review. The award would be made to the lowest-priced, technically acceptable offeror.

While the protestor submitted a proposal, none of the PPQs they provided with the proposal had been completed. The PPQs only provided contact information for prior customers.  As a result, the agency found the proposal was technically unacceptable, because they failed to include completed PPQs. The protestor was eliminated from the competition and award was made to another contractor.

The eliminated offeror filed a GAO bid protest challenging its elimination. They understood that the PPQs had not been completed by its past customers, but stated they “reasonably anticipated that the agency would seek the required information directly from its clients.” The protestor claimed that it “is often difficult to obtain such information from its clients because they are often too busy to respond in the absence of an inquiry directly from the acquiring activity.”

GAO responded that “an offeror is responsible for submitting an adequately written proposal and bears the risk that the agency will find its proposal unacceptable where it fails to demonstrate compliance with all of a solicitation’s requirements.” Here, “the RFP specifically required offerors to submit completed PPQs,” but “Genesis did not comply with the solicitation’s express requirements.” Accordingly, “the agency reasonably rejected Genesis’ proposal.” GAO denied Genesis’ protest.

So this decision needs to be understood and taken into consideration when PPQs are part of the evaluation portion of an acquisition.  It is up to the offeror to obtain the completed PPQs.

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