According to GAO, it’s reasonable for agencies to consider it in evaluating quotes.

The topic of millennials in the workforce is no stranger to anyone in the working world. A plethora of articles, blogs, reports, polls, and studies have been devoted to the subject. Companies and a countless other number of people (including millennials) have debated the subject for years, and will likely continue to do so. This is especially true when it comes to how quickly (whether perceived or actual) millennials move from one job to the next. The common assumption is that millennials move quickly between jobs, never truly laying down roots for the long-term.

But is this a fair assessment of millennials? Depending on the age group and type of job, data on the either paints a poor picture of millennials or, more commonly, reveals that the situation is not as bad as the perceived concern. The United States Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) conducted its own study, which focused on employee engagement and attrition, and found slightly higher rates of attrition for millennials, which decreased as groups increased in age, which, for the oldest of the millennial groups, was only a 1.3% different from non-millennial groups. Overall, GAO’s study showed that millennial attrition rates were not as dire as many perceive them to be. Yet, the stereotypes regarding millennials continue to perpetuate themselves, even reaching the bid protest realm.

The GAO, on December 20, 2017, denied IPT Associates, LLC’s (“IPT”) bid protest that the Department of Defense, Washington Headquarters Services & Pentagon Force Protection Agency (“WHS”) misevaluated its proposal. Of most relevance here, the Solicitation required submissions under the critical management and staffing plan factor that the agency would evaluate for “the plan’s level of risk, and that the risk rating would reflect how well a plan demonstrated that ability to (a) successfully staff and perform mission requirements and (b) ensure continuity of operations.” As part of proposal submissions, potential offerors were required to submit detailed recruiting information, including their flow process from selection to hiring and through orientation, a timeline, and a strategy description.

Following its evaluation of IPT’s proposal, the Agency deemed that the offer presented medium risk for the management and staffing factor. The Agency evaluators noted multiple “areas of concern,” including that “where candidates are sourced via job postings that active recruiting appears to come from college recruiting and employee referrals . . . .” from one college. WHS then provided that “[t]his is a concern due to the lack of diversity in the vendor’s approach to active candidate outreach where [in the proposal] it shows that ¾ of the incumbent staff are millennials who as the [proposal] show[s] indicates spends the shortest amount of time retained.” WHS concluded that the proposed referrals come “from a demographic with a high rate of turnover.” The Source Selection Authority ultimately adopted this evaluation and emphasized that, based on the offeror’s own information, it sought to rely upon “referrals . . . being provided by the individuals with the highest exit rate . . . .” IPT lost the contract.

In its protest of the agency’s evaluation under the management and staffing factor, IPT argued that referrals from millennials have no connection to millennial turnover and, moreover, that the assumption that millennials even have a higher turnover is unreasonable and constitutes a stereotype. IPT even provided multiple studies showing that this stereotype lacks validity.

In response, the Agency pointed back to IPT’s proposal, noting that its workforce consisted of a majority of millennials, that many referrals would come from those millennials, and that they had the highest turnover rates. After examining the arguments, GAO sided with WHS, holding that WHS’s conclusions, when based on information from the offeror’s own proposal, were not unreasonable and that it reasonably considered the information regarding millennials to constitute a staffing risk.

This decision is not surprising, and offerors should heed its simple lesson: when it comes to proposing staffing approaches with millennials, do not provide the agency with data that reinforces millennial retention stereotypes. Instead, offerors should provide facts that do not raise risks, and if those facts aren’t favorable, offerors should readjust the staffing approach.

That said, government contractors don’t just have to worry about submitting the best proposals. A host of other federal and state laws and regulations apply to government contractors, including those that prohibit age discrimination. Under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”) employers cannot discriminate against people aged 40 or older. Employers can, however, favor an older employee over a younger one. Luckily for contractors, because the first Millennials were born in the early 1980s, they do not fall into this category—yet. Within a few years, however, Millennials will be turning 40 and the ADEA will then apply, which (depending on the circumstances) could open up employers that base their hiring decision on stereotypes to potential liability under federal and state law. Moreover, some states (such as Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Oregon) have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination and already cover Millennials. More states could (and, indeed, likely will) pass laws protecting workers under the age of 40 from age discrimination.

When it comes to proposals that require detailed staffing plans, offerors would benefit themselves by providing accurate information regarding millennial retention rates and avoid information or data that plays up disproved stereotypes. Furthermore, as millennials age, contractors must keep anti-discrimination laws in mind when making their hiring decisions, both at the federal and state levels.

This article was originally published in the February 16, 2018 edition of the Set-Aside Alert newsletter.

About the author: Cy Alba is a partner with PilieroMazza and is a member of the Government Contracts and Small Business Programs Groups. He may be reached at [email protected].