Formatting Violations in Quote Lead GAO To Overturn $348 Million Award

On May 2, 2016, the GAO sustained in part the protests of DKW Communications, Inc. (DKW) against the award of three fixed-price task orders to Criterion Systems, Inc. (Criterion). Matter of DKW Commc’ns, Inc., B-412652.3; B-412652.6 (May 2, 2016). The basis for DKW’s protest was that Criterion failed to follow the formatting requirements set forth in the request for quotations (RFQ). While the decision was not legally ground-breaking, it serves as a good reminder that what seem like minor solicitation requirements can become major factors in determining whether you win the contract.

The RFQ in question limited the technical quotation to ten pages and warned that “pages in excess of the 10-page limitation would not be evaluated. “The RFQ also required that the text be at least 12 point font. While Criterion’s technical quotation was, technically, only ten pages long, DKW challenged how Criterion formatted its document to meet this limit.

DKW first argued that the quotation was not “single-spaced.” The GAO agreed, finding that Criterion “violated the RFQ’s explicit provisions regarding page limitations by compressing the line spacing of its technical quotation’s text to be less than the ‘single-spacing’ that the RFQ required. “The GAO rejected Criterion’s argument that “single-spaced” only required that there be no blank lines between the lines of text. Instead, it found that the compression gave Criterion an unfair competitive advantage because it “effectively added approximately three to four pages to the 10-page limitation. “In so holding, the GAO observed that “[t]o conclude otherwise would not be consistent with the purpose of the quotation preparation instructions – to ensure that quotations are submitted in a similar format and are limited as to the amount of information and data they contain on an equal basis.”

DKW also argued that Criterion violated the font size requirement “by including large tables that addressed substantive matters, using a 10-point font size.” While the RFQ stated that “‘spreadsheets, charts, tables, diagrams or design drawings, [and] graphs’ are exempt from the font size, spacing and other requirements,” DKW asserted that Criterion abused the literal meaning of the RFQ by arbitrarily including excessive amounts of data in table form, thus unfairly avoiding the font size requirements. The GAO, however, disagreed on this point, holding that because the RFQ “did not address the size of the tables … or limit their content,” this protest ground was not viable.

In the end, based on the apparent line spacing violation, the GAO recommended that the matter be remanded to ascertain whether the RFQ page limitation for the technical proposal reflects the actual needs of the agency – if so, then Criterion’s quotation is to be rejected; if not, then the RFQ will be amended and revised quotations received.

The DKW decision vividly highlights the importance of strictly adhering to all applicable requirements when preparing a proposal or quotation. There are of course limits to how stringently an agency will enforce the technical requirements of a solicitation. But the fact that the GAO will sustain the protest of a $348 million dollar award over line spacing discrepancies demonstrates the extreme caution that contractors should exercise when pushing the limits of those requirements.

For additional information regarding this protest decision, or for assistance with drafting and submitting proposals, quotations, or bids, please contact the government contracts attorneys at Eckland & Blando LLP.