Based on the given definition of what constitutes as a tiered evaluation of offers, can this process be construed as being synonymous with a set-aside?
No. Based on the DFARS definition of a tiered evaluation of offers, this process cannot be construed as being synonymous with a set-aside, however, in accordance with DFARS 215.203-70(a), the tiered or cascading order of precedence used for tiered evaluation of offers shall be consistent with FAR Part 19. See specifically FAR Subpart 19.5. A "set-aside for small business” is the reserving of an acquisition exclusively for participation by small business concerns. If thorough market research is performed and the Contracting Officer has insufficient justification to set aside an acquisition for small businesses (does not show two or more small businesses capable of meeting the requirement), the Contracting Officer could solicit on an unrestricted basis, and include in the evaluation section of the solicitation notice of intent to utilize a tiered evaluation process, clearly establishing the order of precedence and stating, in accordance with the definition, that if no award can be made at the first tier, offers will be evaluated at the next lower tier, until award can be made.
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