The opinion of the court was delivered by: GESELL
Plaintiff Southeast Training Corporation (STC), is a disappointed bidder in a negotiated procurement for operation of a Job Corps Center located at Kittrell, North Carolina. Numerous improprieties in the bid selection process are alleged. Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the successful bidder who took over operation of the Center under contract with the Secretary of Labor when the previous contract held by STC was completed, has intervened as a defendant. STC seeks by its complaint to have MTC's contract set aside.
MTC's contract was awarded on April 27, 1984. Performance began on June 1, 1984. On the day of the award STC filed a bid protest with the General Accounting Office (GAO), still pending, which raises many of the same issues presented here. The present lawsuit, however, was not filed until May 31, 1984, the day before the new contract was scheduled to go into effect. At a hearing held that day the Court entered a Temporary Restraining Order preventing the Secretary from implementing the MTC contract, upon posting of a bond by plaintiff in the amount of $50,000. The bond was never posted, and MTC commenced performance of the contract on June 1 and has been operating the Center ever since.
A hearing on plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction was held on June 8, 1984. At this hearing plaintiff no longer attempted to establish the alleged improprieties which prompted the Temporary Restraining Order but instead raised entirely different claims.
At the June 8th hearing on plaintiff's motion the Court indicated that it might consolidate that hearing with a trial on the merits pursuant to F.R.Civ.P. 65(a)(2). At plaintiff's request, it was granted until June 15 to file additional papers, and defendants were given until June 22 to address the new issues raised by plaintiff. For the reasons given below the Court has concluded that consolidation is appropriate and, inasmuch as plaintiff has failed to produce evidence entitling it to an injunction from the Court, plaintiff's claim for preliminary relief must be denied and the complaint dismissed.
Plaintiff's principal claims reduce to three basic contentions. The first is that plaintiff was unfairly prejudiced because the contracting officer failed to alert it to "concerns" expressed by the members of the panel which reviewed the technical aspects of the competing proposals, so that STC did not have an opportunity to address those concerns in an effort to increase its technical rating. The second claim is that the contracting officer failed to evaluate the reasonableness of MTC's cost proposal, which STC argues was "not credible." Third, plaintiff alleges that assignment of certain members to the reviewing panel was improper.
Plaintiff's contention that the award to MTC was improper because the technical review panel "team chief" and the contracting officer failed to inform STC of "concerns" raised by that panel with respect to its proposal fails to meet the standard enunciated in Kentron, for three separate reasons.
First, plaintiff's factual showing in support of its allegations is very weak. One witness, Robert Jones, a member of the technical review panel, testified that a single concern he had about both proposals was not to his knowledge communicated to either bidder, and that he believed other members of the panel also had concerns which were not addressed. The government presented evidence, however, which indicated that Mr. Jones' concern could be resolved by information already in the hands of the contracting officer. The contracting officer was not bound by the recommendations of the evaluation panel and was the final decisionmaker. The Court concludes that the evidence does not support plaintiff's assertion that significant concerns raised by panel members were not transmitted to STC.
Second, plaintiff has failed to identify a single statute or regulation which requires transmittal of all concerns raised by panel members to the contracting officer. Two specific regulatory provisions were cited which require the contracting officer to "advise the offeror of deficiencies in its proposal so that the offeror is given an opportunity to satisfy the Government's requirements."
These regulations, however, do not require the contracting officer to communicate "concerns" of panel members unedited, but instead would appear only to require the contracting officer to transmit what he reasonably concluded were "deficiencies." Nothing in the record points to any "deficiencies" in STC's proposal which should have been communicated to it. Thus no "clear" violation of applicable regulations has been shown.
Plaintiff's second principal point is that the contracting officer failed to evaluate the reasonableness of MTC's cost proposal. Here its burden is especially heavy. As our Circuit noted:
Since decisions on cost realism and feasibility are squarely within the area of the contracting officer's expertise, this court cannot second-guess such a determination unless it is not supported by any reasonable basis. Conversely, in order to prevail on this ground, [the disappointed bidder] would have to demonstrate that the contracting officer could only reasonably have concluded that [the winning bidder's] proposal was not feasible.
Kentron, 480 F.2d at 1172 [footnote omitted; emphasis in original].
Plaintiff presented evidence that the contract specialist, Mr. Chamblers, suggested that the MTC proposal was not cost reasonable, but that the contracting officer did not discuss this recommendation with him. The contracting officer, of course, was not in any way bound by this recommendation. No evidence, other than the opinion of Mr. Chamblers, was introduced to show that MTC's bid was unreasonably low. No underlying data or specific expert testimony was presented. Mr. Chamblers did not offer an adequate explanation as to how his conclusion was reached. The government presented evidence that the concerns raised by Mr. Chamblers were in fact considered by the contracting officer,