Imagine you’re deciding which contractor should perform a Navy task order to provide engineering support, asset staging, and installation services on board ships. You receive the following ratings from the SSEB:

prism ratings

To whom do you award the order? In the task order award at issue in Prism Maritime, LLC , the Agency repeatedly chose the offeror with the unacceptable overall rating—which also was the non-incumbent. The case is interesting for the starkness of the different ratings and the agency’s willingness to look past the problems with Valkryie’s proposal. GAO ruled that Valkryie’s problems were not adequately explained away—and sustained Prism’s protest of this award.

Last week’s Prism Maritime opinion was GAO’s second exposure to this procurement. The agency had taken corrective action in response to Prism’s earlier protest, asserting that it would reevaluate proposals and make a new award decision. In the second go-round, the SSA conducted an independent evaluation of the proposals and determined that the SSEB was mistaken about just about everything—purportedly incorrectly assigning all of the seven deficiencies and a number of the weaknesses to Valkryie’s proposal. After correcting these “mistakes,” the SSA found the proposals were technically equivalent and awarded to the $9-million-lower priced offeror, i.e., Valkryie, as the best value.

When it sustained Prism’s protest, GAO explained that the SSA’s disagreement with the SSEB’s evaluation did not “withstand logical scrutiny.” GAO was particularly skeptical of the SSA’s willingness to accept Valkryie’s proposed use of a facility being leased to Prism without any evidence that Prism was willing to transfer the lease to its competitor.

GAO similarly rejected the agency’s cost realism evaluation, which was comprised of two Excel spreadsheets that inadequately documented the necessary analysis. Among other things, the record included no narrative cost evaluation report or any other supporting materials. Rather, the agency submitted a post hoc declaration from its contracting specialist. However, GAO found that simply checking to determine whether an offeror proposed the minimum Service Contract Act wage rate was inadequate—particularly for a cost-plus-incentive-fee task order.

Source selection officials are free to adjust evaluators’ ratings (even large numbers of ratings), and they can make best value decisions favoring lower technically ranked offerors. But SSA’s have an obligation to fully explain departures from evaluators’ assessments (as well as best value trade-offs), and substantial departures from evaluator judgments should be and often are treated skeptically unless reasonably justified by decisionmakers.