Government Contracts Empty Excel Cells Warranted Elimination of Proposal
Monday, February 11, 2019

Empty Excel Cells Warranted Elimination of Proposal 

By Government Contracts Editorial Staff

It was not arbitrary or an abuse of discretion for the government to eliminate a protester from a competition for information technology support services, according to the Court of Federal Claims, because by leaving Excel spreadsheet cells blank instead of showing $0.00, the protester’s proposal omitted mandatory prices, which was a material defect. The request for proposals contemplated a two-phase evaluation and reserved the government’s right to award without discussions. For phase 1, the RFP required offerors to confirm in writing that they took “no exceptions or deviations to/from the RFP.” The RFP also required offerors to fill in all necessary labor rates for various labor categories using pricing tables attached to the RFP as an Excel file, warning that “[o]ffers failing to propose [unit prices] on all mandatory [49 contract line item] categories for all [5] years of the base period will receive no further consideration and will be eliminated ….” In one of the protester’s tables, all of the cells associated with the labor rate for “[a]dministrative [s]pecialist, [c]ontractor site” were left blank. Another table showed “0” for the position, which was the value in all offers because the government identified “0” hours for the position in its table. The government eliminated the protester for failing to propose a labor rate for the position. The protester argued the government should have understood the blank cells were in fact a proposed price of $0.00 because blank cells on Excel spreadsheets are to be read as 0s. 

Clear Directives. However, Excel’s automatic function calculations did not supersede the RFP’s clear directives to provide values in dollar and cents, and the government reasonably read the protester’s proposal as failing to include a price for one of the mandatory contract line items. The failure to include a dollar and cents price for the position was a material error. As the court’s decisions have made clear (see, e.g., Business Integra, Inc. v. U.S., 58 CCF ¶80,371), even if omitted price information has a minimal impact on the total price, the omission is a material error if inclusion of a price is mandatory in the RFP, binding on the offeror, and considered in the evaluation. Here, the RFP provided the government would “evaluate each [o]fferor’s unit pricing … for reasonableness and realism.” Without a labor rate, it was not possible for the government to evaluate the protester’s proposed unit pricing for the administrative specialist position or even determine if the protester was contractually bound to provide the labor. Moreover, material changes to a proposal cannot be fixed through clarifications, and the government did not abuse its discretion by not requesting a clarification from the protester regarding its intended price. (ManTech Advanced Systems Int’l, Inc. v. U.S., FedCl, 63 CCF ¶81,569) .

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