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Centre Law & Consulting

In its July 28, 2017 decision, the GAO denied a protest and found an agency’s decision to negotiate a sole-source contract with a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) to be reasonable based on the agency’s lack of progress in meeting its HUBZone goals. JRS Staffing Services, B-414630, B414630.2 (July 28, 2017).

The original solicitation process from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons (BOP), underwent several rounds. The BOP originally issued a solicitation without any restriction on competition. However, following a protest from JRS, they agency canceled the solicitation in order to conduct market research to determine whether it would be feasible to set the contract aside for small businesses. Several months later, the BOP awarded a HUBZone sole-source contract to ProHill. JRS subsequently protested that award, challenging the BOP’s failure to post a notice of its intent to award a sole-source contract on the FedBizOpps website. The BOP subsequently terminated the sole-source contract in order to being the procurement process over. One month later, the BOP posted a statement of work and a sources sought notice for the requirement on the FedBizOpps website, which included a market research questionnaire. One more month later, BOP posted a notice of the agency’s intent to negotiate a sole-source contract with ProHill, a HUBZone. JRS subsequently filed its third protest regarding this BOP contract.

In challenging the BOP’s decision to negotiate a HUBZone sole-source award with ProHill, JRS argued that the award was based on flawed market research as the solicitation could have been competed as a WOSB set aside as both JRS and ProHill are WOSBs. In denying JRS’s protest, the GAO noted that the FAR expressly provides that there is no order of precedence between the WOSB and HUBZone programs and agencies may consider both the results of their market research and their progress in fulfilling their small business goals. Here, it was reasonable that the agency’s decision to use the HUBZone program was based primarily on its lack of progress in meeting its HUBZone goals whereas the agency had already exceeded its WOSB goals. Therefore, the GAO dismissed JRS’s protest.

 

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

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Centre Law & Consulting

If you are in the Northern Virginia area, grab some lunch with Centre’s Managing Partner, Barbara Kinosky, on May 23 at the Tower Club in Tysons, VA.

Barbara will be the featured speaker presenting on “Hot Topics for Federal Contractors: A Look at What’s In and What’s Out in 2017” at the Tower Club’s Lunch and Learn series. Attendees will get up to date on all the latest hot topics in the federal contracting industry. What will a Trump presidency continue to look like? Will there be more emphasis on defense spending? How will federal regulations be impacted? Executive orders, compliance, audits – what’s in, what’s out?

Come learn about all this and more!

What:   Hot Topics for Federal Contractors: A Look at What’s In and What’s Out in 2017
Date:    May 23, 2017
Time:    12:30pm – 1:30pm
Where: Tower Club in Tysons, VA

Find out more and register via the Calendar page on the Tower Club’s website.

 

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Centre Law & Consulting

One DOE Procurement Produced 24 Protests and a Request for Reconsideration | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
On March 31, 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a press release concerning a bid protest decision that resolved seventeen protests, which challenged the award of contracts by the Department of Education (DOE) for student loan debt collection services.

On March 27, 2017, the GAO sustained several of the protests in part, finding that DOE made several prejudicial errors in evaluating the proposals, which led it to making unreasonable source selection decisions. The GAO recommended that the DOE reevaluate proposals and make new source selection decisions. The decision itself was issued under a protective order – hence the press release – because the decision may contain proprietary or source selection sensitive information.

While the decision regarding the seventeen protests discussed above is still not publicly available, on April 6, 2017, the GAO issued a decision in which it declined to reconsider the protests decision. Two intervenors who had received awards in the original procurement filed “motions to vacate” asking that the GAO reconsider and rescind its decision issued on March 27, 2017.

This denial of reconsideration gives us a little bit more background into the procurement. The GAO notes in its decision that between December 19, 2016 and January 9, 2017, it received twenty-four protests relating to the DOE procurement. The GAO dismissed five for various procedural or pleading deficiencies. Of the remaining nineteen, seventeen of those were consolidated as they raised several common challenges to the agency’s evaluation of proposals and ultimate award decisions. Those seventeen were decided in the above referenced protected decision. The remaining protests were withdrawn and are currently being pursued at the Court of Federal Claims. Notice of intent to file at the Court was filed by the protestor at the Court of Federal Claims on March 24, and the GAO was notified on March 28 that the protestor was withdrawing its protest.

In their request for reconsideration, the two intervenors sought to nullify the GAO’s decision sustaining the protests based on the March 24 pre-filing notice arguing that the notice had the immediate and automatic effect of divesting the GAO of jurisdiction under 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(b). In denying the request, the GAO noted that it was not actually provided notice until March 28 when the protester withdrew its protest, which was one day after it issued its decision on March 27. Furthermore, this particular protest was not among the seventeen consolidated protests that the GAO decided in the March 27 decision. Finally, the GAO noted that the mere fact that a notice of intent to file a complaint was filed does not automatically divest the GAO of jurisdiction but rather triggers the requirement for it to consider whether dismissal is required under 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(b). Specifically, (b) only requires dismissal where the GAO determines that the subject matter of the protest is before a court of competent jurisdiction. Therefore, all things considered, the GAO dismissed the requests for reconsideration.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

 

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Centre Law & Consulting

This July, several of the Centre staff were chosen from a competitive field to lead multiple breakout sessions at the 2017 World Congress in Chicago, IL. World Congress is the National Contract Management Association’s largest education event for contract management, procurement, and acquisition professionals. Individuals from government, industry, and commercial business come together for networking and training for all career levels.

From pressing legal matters to the latest in GSA Schedule updates, come learn the information you’ll need to stay up-to-date in the federal contracting industry. Make sure these three breakout sessions are added to your “must-see” events on your conference schedule:

MONDAY, JULY 24 (11:15am – 12:30pm)
Corporate Ethics: Lead from the Top or Pay Through the Nose
David Warner, Partner

This session will review recent enforcement actions—including whistleblower, qui tam, and debarment processes— with respect to federal contractors. Hear about the current state of the law concerning “hidden” ethical traps for import/export, ITAR/EAR, and TAA, in addition to the more common traps of the False Claims Act and Foreign Corrupt Practices. Corporate ethics are expected to remain a significant concern for contractors even under the new administration. Leave with guidance to understand the current legal landscape and to identify and mitigate such risk.

TUESDAY, JULY 25 (11:15am – 12:30pm)
Protests Happen, so Now What?
Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner
James Phillips Jr, PMP, CFCM, Fellow, Acquisition Consultant

When the word protest is used often, both buyer and seller bristle. This presenter speculates on the thinking that the government buyer goes through that ultimately results in a decision that is sustained. Hear key decision points of actual sustained protests.

TUESDAY, JULY 25 (4:00pm – 5:15pm)
Lessons Gleaned from Successful Protests at GAO
Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner

What makes a protest successful and what can you do to avoid stalling your acquisition due to a protest? With the number of protests increasing, this session gives attendees clear guidance on practices to avoid that will lead to protest.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 26 (9:45am – 11:00am)
SIP vs FPT, TDR/FAS Sales Reporting vs 72A, eOffer/eMod
Maureen Jamieson, Executive Director of Consulting
Julia Coon, Consultant

eOffer/eMod is GSA’s online tool to submit GSA offers and modifications that is only accessible to authorized negotiators with digital certificates. This session will show participants how to submit a GSA offer and modifications and other electronic forms. Hear about the SIP program and step-by-step instructions for the import/upload process for both products and services. Discussion will focus on GSA’s new TDR/FAS Sales Reporting and Formatted Product Tool.
 
2017 NCMA World Congress Breakout Sessions | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 

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Executive Order for More Accountability at Department of Veterans Affairs | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has come under intense scrutiny from Congress, Veterans, and taxpayers in recent years in large part due to its patient wait time scandal. The first bills to pass the U.S. House of Representatives in the current 115th Congress included The Ensuring VA Employee Accountability Act. The Congress.gov website has numerous current bills pending pertaining to VA accountability, and there was no shortage of proposed accountability legislation in the 114th Congress.

Now the President has weighed in as well. On April 27, 2017, President Trump traveled across Lafayette Park from the White House to the VA Central Office to sign Executive Order (EO) 13793, “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The intent of the EO is to improve accountability and whistleblower protection at VA. It directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection and to appoint a special assistant to serve as the office’s Executive Director.

This new office must be established within 45 days of the EO (therefore, by June 11, 2017), and VA must provide funding and administrative support “consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.”

The VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection shall advise and assist the Secretary in using, as appropriate, all available authorities to discipline or terminate a VA manager or employee who has violated the public’s trust and failed to carry out his or her duties on behalf Veterans and to recruit, reward, and retain high-performing employees.

In addition, the office will identify statutory barriers to the Secretary’s authority to discipline or terminate any employee who has jeopardized the health, safety, or well-being of a Veteran, reporting such barriers to the Secretary for consideration as to the need for legislative changes.

Finally, the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection is charged with the responsibility to work closely with VA components to ensure swift and effective resolution of Veterans complaints of wrongdoing at VA, ensure adequate investigation and correction of wrongdoing at VA, and protect employees who lawfully disclose wrongdoing from retaliation.

The EO does provide the Secretary with some flexibility in establishing the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. The Secretary may consider whether some or all of the functions are currently performed by an existing VA office, component, or program and to determine if certain administrative capabilities necessary to operate the office are redundant. Additionally, the Secretary may consider whether combining VA’s Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection with another VA office, component, or program may improve VA’s efficiency, effectiveness, or accountability.

A copy of EO 13793 was published in the Tuesday, May 2, 2017, edition of the Federal Register.

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

 

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Ninth Circuit Rules Employer Can Pay Female Employee Less Than Male Based On Prior Salary | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
The Ninth Circuit recently ruled in Rizo v. Yovino that a female’s prior salary can be a “factor other than sex,” thus justifying a pay disparity between comparable male and female employees for purposes of the Equal Pay Act.

The plaintiff was an employee of the public schools in Fresno County, California. Upon discovering that the County paid her less than her male counterparts for the same work, she brought an action against the County under the Equal Pay Act. The County conceded that it paid the plaintiff less than male employees but argued that the pay differential was based on the plaintiff’s prior salary.

Under the Equal Pay Act, there are four exceptions that permit a wage disparity; one of those exceptions is “a differential based on any other factor other than sex.”

In determining that prior salary alone can never qualify as a factor other than sex, the district court reasoned that “a pay structure based exclusively on prior wages is so inherently fraught with the risk…that it will perpetuate a discriminatory wage disparity between men and women that it cannot stand, even if motivated by a legitimate non-discriminatory business purpose.” In vacating the district court’s order, the Ninth Circuit held that an employer may base its pay differential on prior salary so long as its use effectuated some business policy and the employer reasonably used it in light of its stated purpose and other practices. The Ninth Circuit remanded the matter back to the district court to evaluate the employer’s business reasons in setting the salaries.

Therefore, in essence, the Ninth Circuit has held that an employer may perpetuate existing pay disparities so long as it is part of a company’s business policy. However, this case has the potential to go to the U.S. Supreme Court as other appeals courts have decided this issue differently.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

 

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Bid Protests: Incumbent Protests Failure of Navy to Release Incumbent’s Proprietary Data | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
Just when you think you have heard it all, along comes the preaward protest of Fluor Federal Solutions, LLC, B-414223, March 29, 2017.

Fluor alleged that the Department of the Navy, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, solicitation was ambiguous. Fluor claimed that that offerors could not meaningfully price their proposals because of the ambiguous requirement it contained and that proposals received could not be meaningfully compared and evaluated. The interesting quirk was that Fluor was the incumbent, and they wanted to “level the playing field” so that all offerors were bidding to the same requirement and leaving no ambiguity. Fluor’s method of doing so was to have the Navy release Fluor’s proprietary data, after it waived its rights in the data.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissed this ground of protest. They held that the protester failed to establish that it is an interested party to challenge the lack of data. This is legal speak for saying that Fluor cannot protest on behalf of other potential bidders. Fluor was not prejudiced by the failure of other offerors to see the Fluor proprietary data.

It’s an interesting twist on a protest.
 
About the Author

Barbara Kinosky Barbara Kinosky
Managing Partner

Barbara Kinosky has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting and is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act. She has a proven track record of solving complex issues for clients by providing strategic and business savvy advice. Barbara was named a top attorney for federal contracting by Smart CEO magazine in 2010, 2012, and 2015.

 

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On August 29, 2016, the Air Force issued an RFP seeking base operations support services at an Air Force Base in Mississippi. The solicitation advised offerors that the agency would award the contract “to the proposal with the lowest evaluated price from among those proposals evaluated to be acceptable.” The RFP further stated that the technical evaluation team would evaluate the lowest-price offeror and then, as needed, evaluate higher priced offerors in order of price rank, to assign a rating of Acceptable or Unacceptable.

The protester, PAE, was found to be technically acceptable but had the second lowest price of all offerors and, thus, award was made to the lowest offeror. PAE subsequently filed a protest arguing that the agency performed an inadequate evaluation of unbalanced pricing and failed to evaluate the realism of offeror’s pricings.

In evaluating the protest, the GAO found that, absent a solicitation provision expressly or implicitly providing for a price realism evaluation, agencies are neither required nor permitted to conduct one in awarding a fixed-price contract. The GAO further found that, even though the solicitation required the agency to analyze whether the offerors’ prices were unbalanced, PAE failed to sufficiently allege that the awardee’s prices were overstated or unbalanced.

In dismissing the protest, the GAO found that PAE failed to allege a sufficient basis of protest because it had not alleged that the awardee’s prices were overstated or unbalanced and, thus, even where an agency acts in error, the GAO will not sustain a protest unless the protestor can show that it was prejudiced by the error. The GAO likewise found that PAE’s additional protest grounds, including failure to conduct meaningful discussions, were not a legally sufficient basis for a protest because the evaluation scheme challenged by PAE was not the type of deficiency required to be addressed during discussions.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

 

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Small Business Contracting Goals for “Manageable Spend”

On May 25, 2017, with only 128 days remaining in Fiscal Year 2017, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued VA’s Fiscal Year 2017 small business goals.  This is actually an improvement over when the Fiscal Year 2014 goals were issued with only 38 days remaining in the fiscal year.  Fiscal Year 2014 was the last time the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued a Small Business Goaling Memorandum.

In response to a May 24, 2017, Freedom of Information Act request for VA’s Fiscal Year 2015, 2016, and 2017 Secretary of Veterans Affairs Goaling Memorandums, VA provided a copy of the Fiscal Year 2017 Secretary’s Goaling Memorandum, along with a no responsive records response for copies of the Fiscal Year 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 Secretary’s Small Business Goaling Memorandums.  A no responsive records response can only mean the VA Secretary did not issue the annual goaling memorandum for those years.

VA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, an organizational element of the Office of the Secretary, is responsible for preparing and coordinating the Secretary’s annual small business goaling memorandum.  It appears this was not done for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016.

The VA Secretary’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goaling Memorandum makes it official:  VA’s department-wide goals for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) and Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) remain at 10% and 12%, respectively.  These goals have been flatlined since Fiscal Year 2010, despite VA substantially exceeding the goals each year.

Interestingly, the VA Secretary’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goaling discusses a Fiscal Year 2016 piloted effort to concentrate on spend areas where active goals management is most likely to produce results.  VA identified “manageable spend” areas based on VA-funded contract actions, but excluded major health care contracts, large-dollar major construction actions, and mandatory domestic delivery service contracts under the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative.  Since no goaling memorandum was issued by the Secretary in Fiscal Year 2016, it is unlikely many people outside VA would have known of this change.

VA’s Fiscal Year 2017 Small Business Goals are established at the statutory level for Women-Owned Small Business (5%), Small Disadvantaged Business (5%), and HUBZone Small Business (3%).  VA’s Small Business goal was reduced from 32% last fiscal year, to 28.5% for Fiscal Year 2017.  The Secretary’s memorandum also establishes VA’s Fiscal 2017 subcontracting goals.

VA decreased its small business subcontracting goal from 17.5% to 17.0%, while increasing the goals for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business and Veteran-Owned Small Business by 2%, from 5% and 3%, respectively, to 7% and 5% respectively.

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

 

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Interim Final Rule Adopted as Final Rule Without Change

In the July 12, 2017, edition of the Federal Register, VA published its Final Rule implementing its revisions regarding the length of the eligibility period for inclusion in the VA Vendor Information Pages Database (VIP) (www.vip.vetbiz.gov).  This Final Rule implements an Interim Final Rule published in the Federal Register on February 21, 2017, extending the length of eligibility from two years to three years.  VA invited public comments on or before April 24, 2017.

VA’s Final Rule notice discusses comments received in response to its request for public comment, including comments requesting clarification as to whether currently verified SDVOSBs/VOSBs would be automatically extended.  VA indicates all verified firms in the VIP Database automatically had their eligibility term extended by one year.

The Final Rule notice also reiterates information contained in the February 21, 2017, where VA sets forth its rationale for extending the eligibility period for re-verification from two to three years.  VA expresses high confidence in the robust examination process conducted by its Center for Verification and Eligibility, citing Fiscal Year 2016 data to support this conclusion.  Moreover, the change reduces the administrative burden on SDVOSBs/VOSBs participating in the Veterans First Contracting Program at VA.

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In the past I have written about subcontracting compliance from the Contractor Purchasing System Review (CPSR) audit prospective. The three step process of system existence, system procedure adequacy and compliance is a very effective way to meet the FAR 44.3 CPSR goal of “efficiency and effectiveness with which the contractor spends Government funds and complies with Government policy when subcontracting”. How efficient and effective the contractor procurement system performs goes beyond these three steps. Some of the factors that commonly impact on the acquisition process include planning, proper description of needs and funding. This article touches on a few aspects of these factors that if ignored can degrade the efficiency and effectiveness of your outsourcing processes.

Planning is the major factor and can encompass the other two, but each is worth discussing. Planning encompasses many things that don’t always get the attention they deserve. One thing is certain, if you don’t take the time to do a good comprehensive job up front you will pay for it later! One of the major aspects of planning is in the proposal phase make or buy decisions. The make or buy analysis is part of the process for creating a winning team.

You want to offer the client a winning team that meets their needs on time and at the right price. Do you provide the goods, components and services in-house or can you improve the “product” and pricing through partnering and subcontracting? The answer is to look for the best combination to win the contract. Is the outsourcing function within your company adequately represented on the proposal team? The subcontracting team can add value through market research identifying potential source and supporting small business plan development. Additionally, the subcontracting team can work with proposal team members on issue including flow down requirements, terms and conditions and pricing support.

Have you ever hear the complaint that the government wants you to competitively award scope that was promised to a team member? If the original proposal clearly identifies the team member as the teaming source for a specific scope, then the source selection issue is complete. In fact, you may be able to get the Contracting Officer to include the team member in clause 52.244-2(j) excluding them from the consent process. Unfortunately I have seen cases where the winning proposal used information from a subcontractor but did not clearly describe the teaming arrangement in line with FAR 9.6. If the original proposal had included a clear description of the teaming arrangement, you have a solid basis for the subcontract source selection and a solid response when the CPSR team questions the adequacy of your subcontract competition activities. The outsourcing function needs to be an active member of the proposal team to make sure the ground work is laid right up front!

A proper description of needs is not a new subject. Too often the internal customer (aka end user or requisitioner) is left to his or her own to come up with what is needed. The outsourcing function should be involved with the internal customer working with them to identify the best ways to meet their needs. If it is a recurring need, do you set up a competitively awarded catalog or blanket purchase arrangement? Or, do you set up a larger order with multiple deliveries coordinated with the internal customer’s schedule? If the internal customers’ needs are so specific that it limits competition, then you have the opportunity to work with them to do the market research to find alternatives or to substantiate the single or sole-source justification. In either case, you have a solid response when the CPSR team questions the adequacy of competition activities or basis for a commercial item determination. The outsourcing function needs to be actively involved with the internal customer right up front!

Funding is a subject that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Sure, you need money to support a purchase order/subcontract, and Under DFARS 252.244-7001 (c) (4), properly authorized requisitions are required.  But there are other issues around funding that can hamper efficient and effective outsourcing. One issue that can negatively impact you is adequate funding.

Inadequate funding on a requisition can lead to delays and increased costs in prime contract performance. Proper project planning and budgeting helps, but the funding source(s) and acquisition planning need to be worked together. For example, rental of heavy construction equipment should be based on the construction schedule the equipment is supporting. You would think that means a six month rental should be funded for six months. But, sometimes you see it “incrementally” funded through a series of requisitions. Here is where efficiency and effectiveness go out the window. The buyer/subcontract administrator must issue a series of monthly modification to add funds (buyer time away from other work). If the funding requisition is delayed, then invoices sit in Accounts Payable waiting for sufficient committed funds to pay the invoice (both buyer and A/P clerk have time away from other work). Late payments leads to stop work threats, complaints to the Contracting Officer, and questions/findings on accounting and purchasing audits (now management, buyers, A/P clerks and others have more time away from other work). When payment is slow, disgruntled subcontractors are less inclined to bid new work or offer better pricing (more work again and potential system audit issues related to a variety of issues such as; timely award, adequate competition, fair and reasonable pricing, subcontract closeout and file documentation).  Again, early involvement of the outsourcing function can help eliminate problems before they occur saving time and resources that would otherwise be consumed trying to patch and fix things later in the process.

I hope my point is clear. Early involvement by your subcontracting and purchasing staff pays big rewards to the overall success of your company. Beyond timely and successful prime contract performance, another benefit is improved compliance. When I see problems during compliance audits and CPSR reviews, the “root cause” is frequently the result of a “reactive procurement system” trying to fix things that could have been avoided by early, effective involvement with internal customer. With time being taken away from the primary task of procuring the goods and services needed, quality and compliance suffer. When people have the time and tools to do their jobs, they are going to give you the kind of results you need, successfully perform the prime contract and meet client audit expectations. That’s how you maintain an approved purchasing system!

About the Author

Jack Hott headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Jack Holt has more than four decades of experience as a contracts professional in Government and the private sector. A retired Air Force officer, he served multiple acquisition related assignments with The Air Force and Defense Contract Management Agency. These assignments included Assistant Professor of Acquisition Management, Air Force Institute of Technology, multiple in-plant assignments where he functioned as Principle Administrative Contracting Officer/DACO managing contract administration, pricing, government property, CAS and overhead approvals, supplier quality, and subcontract management.

After leaving the Air Force, Mr. Hott became principle consultant to a small veteran owned business developing and presenting training on a variety of government contracting subjects including cost/price analysis, contract administration and Cost Accounting Standards.

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Just in time for the consummate workaholic acquisition professional to read while lying on the beach this summer, and for those who never want to get too far away from the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), the General Services Administration (GSA) Office of Government-wide Policy, in conjunction with the FAR Council announced June 20, 2017, the release of the FAR in the Kindle Bookstore.

The FAR is now available in eBook format for free in the Amazon Kindle bookstore.  Users can highlight text, bookmark sections, even send quotes via e-mail.  According to Acquisition.Gov, the eBook format is proving very popular with procurement professionals with thousands of downloads in the Apple iBooks Store.

Information on how to download the FAR on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks is available at:  https://www.acquisition.gov/mobileaccess.

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Recently, in the matter of SK Hart Properties LLC, the unsuccessful incumbent contractor for the General Services Administration’s office in Salt Lake City protested the Agency’s decision to use a “fixed tenant improvement allowance.” At its heart, the contractor submitted it does not need the full amount listed for improvements in the solicitation for the contract because its space is relatively prepared for the Agency to use as is. Because the incumbent contractor would not charge the Agency the full amount allowed to alter the space, assuming they will increased their bid price above the competitor, who had a lower base rate of rent but arguably needs closer to the full amount to meet the Agency’s needs.  The incumbent failed to win either the award or the protest, despite arguing the procurement artificially increased their bid price by requiring it to claim expenses they would not incur.

The GAO sided with the Agency who agreed the funds may not actually be spent, but that not including a fixed allowance would unjustly allow the incumbent to rely on improvements to their space previously paid for by the government. No mandate required the Agency to eliminate advantages held by the incumbent, but their decision to do so is permitted. This form of pricing also allowed the Agency to focus on the rental rate, without worrying if proposed improvement costs were correct.

The decision offers a unique example of the GAO attempting to foster competition under the Competition in Contracting Act, even if it results in increased costs to the government.

 

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

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Centre Law & Consulting

Yes, Congress is doing more than learning “nyet” and other basic Russian.   The House of Representatives passed the Modernizing Government Technology Act of 2017 (the “MGT Act”) in record time.  The legislation is now in the Senate.  If enacted into law it would create funds for agencies to invest in new, innovative information technology solutions and replace aging legacy systems.  The bill establishes a $500 million central fund to support rapid IT modernization across 24 agencies. Better yet, this innovative legislation moves agencies away from the “spend it or lose it” budget mentality and actually rewards savers with leftover cash to spend in future years.  This is great legislation would create dependable funding for agencies to be able to prioritize IT modernization and move into the cloud and away from the previous century.

The legislation was introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) in the House, and Sens. Tom  Udall (D-N.M.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) in the Senate.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2227/related-bills

From the Washington Post.  Proposed legislation to allow the Veterans Administration (VA) to more easily terminate VA employees could be a sign of things to come at all federal agencies. The Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, may be signed into law soon.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/06/21/new-va-law-sets-stage-for-government-wide-cut-in-civil-service-protections/?utm_term=.74988474fdf4

Tell your Congressman/woman to support HR 3019 – Promoting Value Based Procurement Act of 2017. It prevents the use of lowest price technically acceptable contract awards (LPTA) for the acquisition of certain services in civilian agencies. It’s a giant step in the right direction. The bill is jointly sponsored by Rep Meadows (R NC) and Rep Beyer (D VA). You can track it on the link below.  https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3019

About the Author

Barbara Kinosky Barbara Kinosky
Managing Partner

Barbara Kinosky has more than twenty-five years of experience in all aspects of federal government contracting and is a nationally known expert on GSA and VA Schedules and the Service Contract Act. She has a proven track record of solving complex issues for clients by providing strategic and business savvy advice. Barbara was named a top attorney for federal contracting by Smart CEO magazine in 2010, 2012, and 2015.

 

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Dec. 31, 2017 should be an important date for Department of Defense contractors, since by that date you will be expected to be following the cybersecurity requirements of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) Special Publication 800-171, “Protecting Controlled Unclassified Information in Nonfederal Information Systems and Organizations.”  Although this deadline specifically applies to the DOD, all federal contractors should be familiar with the NIST standards for Non-Federal Organizations, since every federal agency expects that its contractors will have an adequate security policy in place.

The information that is covered is not classified, but might be considered sensitive.  It is the type of business information that a company would keep confidential.  The NIST requirements, outline requirements in the following areas:

  1. Access Control
  2. Awareness And Training
  3. Audit And Accountability
  4. Configuration Management
  5. Identification And Authentication
  6. Incident Response
  7. Maintenance
  8. Media Protection
  9. Personnel Security
  10. Physical Protection
  11. Risk Assessment
  12. Security Assessment
  13. System And Communications Protection
  14. System And Information Integrity

The requirements are logical, and the NIST publication breaks down each of the categories into “Security Requirements” that every organization should be doing in any case.  For example, under category 2, Awareness Training, the Basic Security Requirements list the following:

  1. Ensure that managers, systems administrators, and users of organizational information systems are made aware of the security risks associated with their activities and of the applicable policies, standards, and procedures related to the security of organizational information systems.
  2. Ensure that organizational personnel are adequately trained to carry out their assigned information security-related duties and responsibilities.
  3. Provide security awareness training on recognizing and reporting potential indicators of insider threat.

Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) 252.204-7012  Safeguarding Covered Defense Information and Cyber Incident Reporting, is the source of the December 31, 2017 requirement.  While the NIST document includes incident response requirements as part of its standards, DFARS 252.204-7012 also makes explicit that security breaches (“cyber incidents”) must be rapidly reported to the Department of Defense.

DOD contractors must have their systems in place to follow these requirements by year end.  But other federal contractors should be ready as well.

 

About the Author

Theodore Banks concentrates his practice on antitrust, compliance, food law, and other corporate matters. Mr. Banks has extensive experience with corporate litigation, including responsibility for contested mergers, environmental contamination, advertising, insurance coverage, products liability, employment law, consumer protection, and packaging and recycling. He has a national reputation for work in corporate compliance and antitrust, and was an early proponent of corporate opt-out suits as plaintiff in antitrust litigation, such as Vitamin, Carbon Dioxide, Corrugated Container, Folding Carton, and Citric Acid Antitrust Litigation, recovering more than $100 million. Through his experience in all aspects of the food industry, Mr. Banks has deep familiarity with the regulatory frameworks and state and federal laws governing food manufacture, distribution, sales, and safety.

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By Barbara Kinosky 

Yes, you read that right.  Deep in the murky depths of the $700 billion fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization (NDAA) bill is language that puts a chill down the spine of protesters. Companies with revenue more than $250 million will have to pay the costs for filing losing protests on DoD procurements at the GAO.  Now protestors pay their own costs and attorneys’ fees with some exceptions. Section 827 of the NDAA would require DoD to launch a pilot program beginning in late 2019 and ending in late 2022 that would require those unsuccessful DoD protestors to pay DoD’s “costs incurred in processing protests.”  As in pilot programs there will be the usual report (which is where the writers of reports will make out big time) on the success of the pilot program.

Why you may ask if this happening?  House-Senate conferees in a rare display of unity, agreed that contractor bid protests needed to be reduced to reduce the time of the procurement cycle, particularly with weapons systems.  This from a Congress who hasn’t done much (my editorial note).

Second editorial note from me.  Most weapons systems contacts are very large.  They are larger than the national debt of Venezuela, which is very large indeed.  So, one would think that given the creep on cost on many weapons systems contracts one would want an even greater degree of scrutiny on those procurements.  Need I mention the mid-air refueling tanker cost woes?

Other questions that will hopefully be addressed in the regulations.  How are costs computed?  How is revenue computed?

Debriefings – NDAA Section 818

New requirements:

  • In the case of a contract award in excess of $100,000,000, a requirement for disclosure of the agency’s written source selection award determination, redacted to protect the confidential and proprietary information of other offerors for the contract award, and, in the case of a contract award in excess of $10,000,000 and not in excess of $100,000,000with a small business or nontraditional contractor,
  • an option for the small business or nontraditional contractor to request such disclosure
  • (2) A requirement for a written or oral debriefing for all contract awards and task or delivery orders valued at $10,000,000 or higher.
  • (3) Provisions ensuring that both unsuccessful and winning offerors are entitled to the disclosure above and the debriefing
  • Plus, a chance to ask follow up questions

Both the winning and losing offerors would be entitled to a debriefing – which at this time, I sparkly say, are still free

Other Stuff I Read So You Don’t Have to

  • Section 802 – DoD will establish a pool of intellectual property experts to get a handle on exactly who owns what
  • Section 803 – new regulations on using private auditors to do incurred cost audits
  • Section 806 – The micro purchase threshold will be increased from $3,000 to $10,000.
  • Section 808 – another committee will be formed! This one on technology threats
  • Section 811 – increase on submission of cost and pricing data numbers and a bit of an increase on the contracting officer’s authority to get such data
  • Section 822 – a bit of an affirmation of using LPTA for procuring expendable goods

Service Contract Act.

On another note, I gave four different speeches last week all on the Service Contract Act, now referred to as the Service Contract Labor Standards.  That must be a record.  Guinness Book of Records – is there a category for the most speeches in one week on the Service Contract Act?  In any event, no one at any of the four presentations fell asleep and many even asked questions.  More I cannot ask for!

 

Happy Thanksgiving all!

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In a first for the federal government, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced that the VA will now publicly post all major disciplinary actions taken against its employees.  This includes all terminations, demotions, and suspensions of more than fourteen days. While the adverse action report does not include employees’ names, the list does and will continue to include the employee’s component, position, specific adverse action taken, date it took effect, and the employee’s region.

In explaining his decision, Shulkin stated: “Under this administration, VA is committed to becoming the most transparent organization in government.” He further added, “Together with the accountability bill the president signed into law recently, this additional step will continue to shine a light on the actions we’re taking to reform the culture at VA.”

The initial adverse action report was posted on the VA website on July 3, 2017 and dates back to January 20, 2017, the day Trump took office.  The report cites 743 disciplinary cases, of which 526 were removals. Interestingly, this would put the VA on pace to only fire 1,169 employees during Trump’s first year in office while the VA fired 2,575 workers in fiscal year 2016. The adverse action report will continue to be updated weekly.

In other federal government news, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general found that DHS has recently spent millions of dollars on a contract that did not meet its needs. In an OIG report released June 30, 2017, the IG found that, despite DHS spending $24.2 million as of February 2017, the performance and learning management system does not “achieve the intended benefits or address the Department’s needs.” The IG further specified that DHS spend more than $5.7 million for subscriptions to the system that either were unused or expired before the system became operational.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

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No April Fools Joke: GSA Refresh/Mass Mods Are Coming | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA
 
The General Services Administration (GSA) Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) is planning to refresh ALL Multiple Award Schedules (MAS). The purpose of the refresh is to incorporate provision and clause changes into MAS solicitations and contracts. Be on the lookout for updates tentatively planned for April 2017.

Major changes to the Small Business Subcontracting Plan will be included in these Refreshes/Mass Mods that will impact both large and small businesses. Look for changes in the Model Subcontracting Plan that reflect additional requirements. These changes were effective November 1, 2016 when DoD, GSA, and NASA issued a final rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement changes made by the Small Business Administration.

Key changes of the refresh and mass modifications are as follows:

Small Business Subcontracting Plans:

Large Business Prime Contractors Must:

  • Make good faith efforts to utilize their small business subcontractors during the contract term to the same degree the prime contractor relied on the small business in preparing and submitting its bid or proposal
  • Resubmit a revised subcontracting report within 30 days of receipt of a notice of report rejection
  • Assign North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes to subcontracts
  • Not prohibit discussion of payment or utilization matters between a subcontractor and the contracting officer
  • Report order level subcontracting information if prime has a subcontracting plan on task and delivery order contracts after November 2017*

Contracting Officers May:

  • Require a subcontracting plan after a small business re-represents its size as other than small
  • Necessitate subcontracting goal calculation in terms of total contract dollars** as well as in terms of total subcontracted dollars

Updates to Non-Federal Entities Purchasing off Federal Supply Schedules (FSS):

  • The State/Local Disaster Purchasing Program*** extends to cover disaster preparation and response as well as recovery from major disasters
  • Access extends to certain qualifying organizations including the American National Red Cross and National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster

Revisions to I-FSS-600 Contract Price Lists:

  • Requirement for submission of contractor’s electronic files is updated to no later than 30 days after award

Other Changes:

  • Removal of Pathway to Success training requirement for streamlined (Successful Legacy) offers
  • Updated Service Contract Labor Standards Act (SCLS) Wage Determinations (WDs) to be added to all schedules
    • Contractors to ensure pricing and WD references are updated and included in SCA matrix

 
For the latest proposed draft updates, see more on GSA Interact.
 

* Requirement date may be extended as updates to the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System (eSRS) are ongoing.
** Offeror may include a proportional amount of products and services that are ordinarily allocated as indirect costs.
*** Disaster Purchasing Program participation is voluntary and vendors may opt in or out at any time during their contract term.

About the Author:

Johanna Moore
Consultant

Johanna Moore is a GSA and VA Contract Consultant at Centre Law & Consulting. She collaborates with the consulting team to provide proposal and contract management assistance to clients, focusing on various modification packages, market analysis, and catalog/pricing updates.

 

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Centre Law & Consulting will be at NCMA World Congress in Chicago from July 23-26, 2017. A number of Centre’s staff have been invited to speak about various federal contracting topics (see below for the topics and times). Centre will also be exhibiting at booth 417.


Monday July 24

Corporate Ethics: Lead from the Top or Pay Through the Nose

A07 • Managing Contracting Organizations • Room 309/311 • Intermediate

David Warner, Partner, Centre Law & Consulting

This session will review recent enforcement actions—including whistleblower, qui tam, and debarment processes— with respect to federal contractors. Hear about the current state of the law concerning “hidden” ethical traps for import/export, ITAR/EAR, and TAA, in addition to the more common traps of the False Claims Act and Foreign Corrupt Practices. Corporate ethics are expected to remain a significant concern for contractors even under the new administration. Leave with guidance to understand the current legal landscape and to identify and mitigate such risk.

The Acquisition Profession’s Essential Tools: Principles of Interpretation

C11 · Foundational Contracting Training • Room 325 · Basic

Kenneth Allen, JD, Attorney and Consultant, Semi-Retired Academic
Barbara Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

What’s in a word? Lots. Contract interpretation is one of the most important skill sets an acquisition professional can have. Attendees will explore the application of the principles of contract interpretation through real court cases and key federal exceptions.


Tuesday, July 25

Protests Happen, so Now What?

D12 · Foundational Contracting Training · Room 326 · Intermediate

James Phillips Jr, PMP, CFCM, Fellow, Acquisition Consultant, Phillips Training and Consulting Inc.
Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

When the word protest is used often, both buyer and seller bristle. This presenter speculates on the thinking that the government buyer goes through that ultimately results in a decision that is sustained. Hear key decision points of actual sustained protests.
ACTIVITY: 8-10 short scenarios will be provided for group discussion.

Lessons Gleaned from Successful Protests at GAO

F05 · Business Acumen · Room 326 · Basic

Barbara S. Kinosky, Esq., Managing Partner, Centre Law and Consulting

What makes a protest successful and what can you do to avoid stalling your acquisition due to a protest? With the number of protests increasing, this session gives attendees clear guidance on practices to avoid that will lead to protest.
ACTIVITY: Small groups will discuss protest issues related to specific examples.


Wednesday, July 26

An Overview of GSA’s e-Tools – eOffer/eMod, SIP, TDR Sales Reporting

G15 · Leveraging Advancing Technology · Room 306 · Basic

Maureen Jamieson, Executive Director of Consulting, Centre Law and Consulting
Julia Coon, Consultant, Centre Law and Consulting

This session will show participants how to submit a GSA offer, modifications and other electronic forms such as the CSP-1 and Small Business Subcontracting Plan in eOffer/eMod. Walk through the SIP program and step-by-step instructions for the import/upload process for both products and services. Discussion will focus on GSA’s new Transactional Data Reporting (TDR)/FAS Sales Reporting and the anticipated Formatted Product Tool (FPT).

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There is an aphorism that goes “Buyer Beware”; time-honored sage advice to be sure.  But perhaps a new aphorism is in order for the Federal marketplace: “Seller Beware.”

Many vendors and contractors selling to the Federal Government under contracts awarded under some type of small business set-aside are frequently unaware of an important requirement tucked neatly away in set-aside clauses.  This requirement is set forth as portion of the clause which normally begins with the word “Agreement.”

As an example, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Clause 52.219-5, Notice of Total Small Business Set-Aside (Nov 2011), contains the following as part of the clause:

“(d) Agreement. A small business concern submitting an offer in its own name shall furnish, in performing the contract, only end items manufactured or produced by small business concerns in the United States or its outlying areas. If this procurement is processed under simplified acquisition procedures and the total amount of this contract does not exceed $25,000, a small business concern may furnish the product of any domestic firm. This paragraph does not apply to construction or service contracts.”

So why do set-aside clauses contain such an agreement?  The answer is simple:  The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Nonmanufacturer Rule, often referred to as “NMR.” (Ref:  13 C.F.R. Section 121.406(b)).

In brief, the NMR requires small businesses receiving awards under the various set-asides used in government procurements, to provide their own product, or that of another domestic small business manufacturer or processor, unless SBA has granted an individual waiver to NMR for the procurement, or the procurement is covered by a class waiver to the NMR, also issued by SBA, and the contracting officer uses the class waiver.

The NMR also addresses how nonmanufacturers may qualify as a small business concern for a requirement to provide manufactured products or other supply items as a nonmanufacturer as well as for Kit Assemblers.

Unfortunately, all too often companies rely on the fact the government issued and awarded the procurement using small business set-aside procedures believe they are somehow protected or immunized from the consequences of non-compliance.  The agreement provision in the various set-aside clauses can only be waived by an SBA issued waiver for an individual procurement, or when the contracting officer uses an existing class waiver.  Unless the procurement is covered by an SBA waiver.

SBA amended its regulations in 2016 indicating the NMR does not apply to procurements between $3,500 and $150,000.   However, the FAR still sets the applicability threshold for NMR at $25,000.

Non-compliance with NMR can have significant consequences for a company, ranging from contract enforcement actions to potential liability under the False Claims Act (FCA).  FCA looms large these days as increasingly more qui tam lawsuits are being filed under FCA by disgruntled and former employees, and even a company’s competitors, as the person bringing the qui tam lawsuit can receive a lucrative payout.

Other set-aside clauses contain agreements relating to the NMR as well.  Please be sure to thoroughly review the requirements of the set-aside clause(s) under which you are submitting an offer.

Sellers Beware!  Protect your company by ensuring absolute compliance with NMR.  Centre Law and Consulting offers a comprehensive 90-minute webinar on the NMR to help small businesses mitigate vulnerabilities in this area and to fully understand the requirements of NMR and ensure their compliance.

Best wishes for every continued success in the Federal Marketplace!

 

About the Author:

Wayne Simpson | Centre Law & Consulting Wayne Simpson
Consultant

Wayne Simpson is a seasoned former Federal executive and acquisition professional who is also a highly-motivated and demonstrative small business advocate, with nearly 38 years of Federal Civilian Service with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and its predecessor organization, the Veterans Administration.

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In a decision on July 10, 2017, the GAO found that an agency reasonably canceled its solicitation after a protest where the agency’s requirements were time dependent.

Tien Walker, a small business, protested the cancelation of the solicitation issued by the Department of State for public opinion polling surveys to be conducted in South Asia. Specifically, the selected contractor was to conduct two public opinion surveys in Afghanistan, with the first survey to be completed before the start of the Muslim observance of Ramadan. Before the solicitation’s closing time, Tien Walker filed a protest with the GAO alleging that the solicitation was unduly restrictive and not properly set aside for small businesses. In response, the Department of State notified that GAO that it had canceled the solicitation and would not resolicit the polling survey. The GAO then dismissed Tien Walker’s protest as academic.

Tien Walker has now protested the cancelation of the solicitation as improper. Specifically, Tien Walker argued that the Department of State unreasonably canceled the solicitation as a pretext to avoid the GAO’s review of its protest.

In denying the protest, the GAO noted that a contracting agency has broad discretion in deciding whether to cancel a solicitation. The GAO further noted that an agency need only establish a reasonable basis to support its decision to cancel a solicitation. Where a protester argues that the agency’s rational for cancellation of a solicitation is mere pretext, the GAO will nonetheless still examine the reasonableness of the agency’s actions.

The Department of State’s rationale for canceling the solicitation relied upon the required stay of contract award and performance due to Tien Walker’s initial protest. The agency further clarified that even if Tien Walker’s first protest was denied, no contractor would have been able to complete the first survey prior to Ramadan. Therefore, the GAO found that the agency’s rationale for canceling the solicitation was reasonable and was not a pretext to avoid awarding the contract on a competitive basis. As such, the GAO denied the protest.

 

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

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Federal contractors often feel a great sense of relief when they are selected for an award. However, the recent GAO decision  regarding a request for quotations for supplying diesel shows just how quickly a business relationship with the federal government can sour.

Bluehorse Corporation, an Indian Small Business, successfully submitted the lowest price quote on supply and delivery of around 30,000 gallons of diesel for use in a construction project. The Request for Quotations stated; “All fuel delivery must be coordinated with the construction manager who will schedule delivery dates and quantities. Please note: that all fuel will not be delivered at one time but in stages as the project progresses.” Bluehorse submitted its quotation noting it had “the ability to 7,500 gallons of fuel per delivery.”

After choosing Bluehorse’s quote, the contracting officer (“CO”) forwarded the purchase order to Bluehorse for 4,000 gallons of fuel every three to four weeks, delivered to two 4,000 gallon capacity tanks. Things between the two quickly turned south in one day. Bluehorse responded in confusion, pointing to the solicitation, which stated the two tanks had a 5,000 gallon capacity.  The CO ignored this provision and instead pointed to language indicating 4,000 gallons would be delivered every three to four weeks.  Bluehorse insisted on clarification for the tank capacity, and receiving no response then wrote, “be aware that our offer was made on the ability to make a 7,500 (gallon) drop (into two 5,000 tanks.)”

The CO offered only an ultimatum, sign the purchase agreement or refuse. The two parties went back and forth with the CO informing Bluehorse their delivery of 7,500 gallons was unacceptable. When Bluehorse did not immediately provided the signed purchase order, the CO rescinded the offer.  Bluehorse filed a protest the very next day claiming the Agency relied upon unstated criteria.

The GAO disagreed, stating a quotation that fails to conform to a solicitation’s material terms and conditions is unacceptable. Here the solicitation explicitly stated the CO would determine delivery dates and quantities. The solicitation also suggested the Agency “typically” orders 4,000 gallons per delivery. In its email exchange, Bluehorse indicated it would only be making 7,500 gallon deliveries, which is a condition unacceptable in the GAO’s decision.

The Bluehorse decision should be takin as a serious warning that awards can quickly dissolve without a tactful hand steering the negotiations.  It is easy to imagine the protest would not have been necessary had Bluehorse approached the tank capacity confusion with more deference or humility to the CO.

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

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Any contractor is frustrated when they fail to win a solicitation award.  Getting edged out on price by a few percentage points, receiving a low technical rating due to a misread proposal, or dealing with confusing evaluation criteria; all legitimate complaints. But imagine if your protest was not even considered, despite clear proof you sent it on time, as instructed.  That’s exactly what happened to Ghazan Neft Gas, for its proposal on a fixed-priced supply and delivery contract of fuel to the US Embassy in Afghanistan.

The solicitation instructed proposals to be sent via email, and Ghazan did just that on March 13th, well before the April 3rd deadline.  On April 8th, Ghazan inquired as to the status of its application, only to learn the Agency had not received the proposal. When Ghazan discovered the contract had been rewarded to another, it filed a protest with the GAO.

Ghazan provided screenshots and declarations showing the proposal was sent to the correct email address on March 13th. The original email was also forwarded from Ghazan’s sent folder.    The Agency simply denied receiving the document and that a review of its inbox and junk folders did not find the email.

The GAO sided with the Agency, stating it was Ghazan’s responsibility to ensure the Agency received the protest and also its burden to prove the delivery occurred. Given Ghazan could show they clearly did send the proposal electronically to the correct place, but still failed to meet the burden, contractors should expect that only written confirmation by the government agency would meet the test.

 

About the Author:

Tyler Freiberger Headshot | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons, VA Tyler Freiberger
Associate Attorney

Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.

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In a recent decision on August 25, 2017, the GAO dismissed the protest of PennaGroup, LLC for failure to timely file comments on the agency reports.

On March 17, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an RFP for the design and construction of solid concrete border wall prototypes. The RFP instructed offerors to acknowledge any issued amendments by signing the accompanying form and advised offerors that failure to acknowledge all Amendments may result in an offeror’s proposal being found non-responsive. PennaGroup timely submitted proposals but only included acknowledge of the seventh and final amendment but did not include the acknowledgement form for amendments one through six. As a result, DHS found PennaGroup non-responsive and eliminated them from further competition. Upon exclusion from competition, PennaGroup filed a protest with the GAO.

Upon receipt of PennaGroup’s protest, the GAO prepared and distributed development letters to the parties, which stated that the due date for the agency to file its report was July 26th. The letter further advised that PennaGroup was required to submit written comments in response to the report and expressly stated: “[w]ritten comments must be received in our Office within 10 calendar days of your receipt of the report – otherwise, we will dismiss your protest.”

DHS timely filed its agency report on July 26th, which made PennaGroup’s comments due on August 7th. However, PennaGroup neither filed comments nor a request for an extension by the close of business on August 7th. The following day, the GAO asked PennaGroup to confirm whether it had filed comments and, in an email response, PennaGroup merely stated they had no arguments to add to their original bid protest. Unsurprisingly, the DHS filed a request for dismissal of the protest.

In dismissing the case, the GAO noted that that its Regulations provide that a protestor’s failure to file comments within ten calendar days shall result in dismissal of the protest unless an extension was granted. The GAO further noted that its Bid Protest Regulations do not allow for post-deadline extensions.

About the Author:

Heather Mims | Centre Law & Consulting in Tysons VA Heather Mims
Associate Attorney

Heather Mims is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting. Her practice is primarily focused on government contracts law, employment law, and litigation. Heather graduated magna cum laude from the George Mason School of Law where she was the Senior Research Editor for the Law Review and a Writing Fellow.

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On Thursday, June 29, 2017, Wayne Simpson will be testifying on behalf of the National Veterans Small Business Coalition (NVSBC), before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs’, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The subcommittee is holding a legislative hearing on four bills related to strengthening acquisitions at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These bills include H.R. 2006, H.R. 2749, H.R. 2781, and another unnumbered bill currently in draft. The hearing is scheduled for 10:00 AM Eastern Time in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.

FedBizAssist, L.L.C., is a supporting member of NVSBC. NVSBC is the largest not-for-profit organization of its kind representing America’s Veteran-owned small businesses to the Federal government, giving a collective voice to these businesses on legislative, regulatory, and policy issues affecting Federal procurement. NVSBC seeks to enhance procurement opportunities for veteran small business entrepreneurs engaged in, or seeking to enter the Federal Marketplace.

Please support America’s Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and legislation which enhances Federal procurement opportunities for these firms. Consider joining NVSBC and supporting its Communications Campaign.

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