Raytheon [RTN] submitted a lower bid than Elbit Systems [ESLT] in the competition to build and install fixed surveillance towers along select stretches of the nation’s southwest border with Mexico although non-price factors as a whole were more important than price, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says in its decision upholding Raytheon’s protest of the government’s award in February of the Integrated Fixed Tower Project (IFT) to Elbit.

GAO’s 18-page decision on the IFT protest quotes Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Source Selection Authority as saying “The Raytheon proposal is a good and strong proposal—but the increased operational capability created by the Elbit system offers a better value, even at a [DELETED]% price premium.

CBP awarded Elbit’s Texas-based EFW Inc. unit a $145.3 million contract for IFT but a subsequent protest by Raytheon, which was just one of the losing bidders, led to a work stoppage pending resolution of the challenge. Following GAO’s decision, the agency is reevaluating Elbit’s and Raytheon’s proposals.

Now the matter turns to which company will win the reevaluation.

GAO say that given the errors it identified in CBP’s source selection and evaluation, “and considering Raytheon’s more than $[DELETED] million price advantage, it is possible that a best-value tradeoff decision might differ following a revised evaluation.”

Raytheon made a number of arguments in its protest, some of which the GAO agreed with. These include CBP giving unequal treatment in favor of EFW by listing unique strengths related to capabilities of the company’s camera under the operational and technical factors while Raytheon’s higher-resolution camera was only listed as a unique strength under the technical factor.

CBP’s source selection evaluation gave EFW a unique strength under the operational utility factor due to the company’s enhancement of the visibility of details in the infrared images, which helps operators better discern if an object being tracked is a threat or not. GAO notes in its decision paper that Raytheon also offered image enhancement techniques.

For the source selection, operational utility, and the system maturity and deployment capability factors were equally weighted and were the most important.

“Notwithstanding the central importance of this aspect of both offerors’ proposals, and the fact that the agency sought to differentiate between the two proposed systems under both the operational utility and technical factors on the basis if image quality, the record is devoid of any reasonable explanation as to why EFW’s standard-resolution camera with [DELETED] was assigned a unique strength under the operational utility factor for enhancement to image quality, while Raytheon’s high-resolution camera with image enhancement features was not,” GAO says. “In addition, while the record shows Raytheon’s high-resolution camera was assigned a unique strength under the technical factor, there is no support in the record for why EFW’s [DELETED] feature was also assigned a unique strength for enhancement to image quality given that Raytheon’s offered solution was higher resolution and also offered image enhancement features. Most importantly, there is no reasonable explanation in the record why the enhanced digital image capability provided by EFW’s [DELETED] feature stands as a discriminator, given that Raytheon offered a higher-resolution camera with image enhancement capabilities.”

Raytheon also challenged CBP’s assertion that EFW’s proposed solution reduces on-screen clutter that thereby reduce operator burdens. GAO says that the source selection board’s evaluation report notes strengths in EFW’s proposal around the graphical user interface and ergonomics subfactor of the operational utility factor but notes that none of these strengths refer to clutter reduction. On the other hand, GAO cites the board as identifying one of Raytheon’s strengths as being able to “allow operators to efficiently identify the item of interest and ‘de-clutter’ their screen.”

GAO goes on to say that “Without a clear record here, we have no basis to find that the SSA (Source Selection Authority) reasonably identified ‘clutter’ as a discriminator.”

The final challenge by Raytheon that GAO agreed with dealt with past performance, which was another factor in helping to determine the winner of the IFT competition. GAO cites CBP as saying it credited past performance of two of EFW’s key subcontractors, Elbit Systems Land & C4I (ESLC) and another whose name was deleted.

However, GAO says “there is no evidence ESLC will perform on this work as a subcontractor.” GAO goes on to say there is no evidence that ESLC is contributing workforce, management, facilities or other resources under the contract.

Under IFT, the fixed towers will consist of ground radars and day/night cameras that are networked and linked to local Border Patrol stations to provide agents with greater situational awareness of certain areas of the southwest border.