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Koprince Law LLC

A small but interesting change in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will require the DoD to obtain an appropriate justification and approval (“J&A”) before restricting any competition to a particular brand name, or imposing similar restrictions.

In adopting this change, Congress doesn’t mince words, using the term “Anti-competitive Specifications” to refer to instances in which competitions are restricted to particular brand names without appropriate justification.

Section 888 of the 2017 NDAA states that the Secretary of Defense “shall ensure that competition in Department of Defense contracts is  not limited through the use of specifying brand names or brand-name or equivalent specifications, or proprietary specifications or standards, in solicitations unless a justification for such specification is provided and approved” in accordance with statutory authority.

FAR 11.105 already imposes restrictions regarding “brand name only” requirements, but the 2017 NDAA seems to go a step beyond FAR 11.105 by including “brand-name or equivalent descriptions” and “proprietary specifications or standards” in its scope. The 2017 NDAA would, however, retain certain exceptions to the justification requirement set forth in the DoD’s acquisition statutes at 10 U.S.C. 2304(f).

In addition to imposing the J&A requirement, the 2017 NDAA provides that within 180 days of enactment, the DoD “shall conduct a review of the policy, guidance, regulations and training related to specifications included in information technology acquisitions to ensure current policies eliminate the unjustified use of potentially anti-competitive specifications.”  The DoD is to brief Congress on its review within 270 days of enactment. Within one year, the DoD is to “revise policies, guidance and training” to reflect any recommendations stemming from its review.

It seems clear from Section 888 that Congress is concerned about the potential overuse of brand name (and similar) requirements. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled around this time next year to see how DoD adjusts its acquisition policies in response.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA. 


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Koprince Law LLC

Under the Competition in Contracting Act, the Government Accountability Office is required to issue an annual report to Congress that summarizes the “most prevalent grounds” of sustained protests, identifies the instances in which GAO was not able to decide a protest within its 100-day deadline, and list any protest where the agency did not follow GAO’s recommendations.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act doubles down on this first requirement: it mandates that GAO provide Congress with a list of the most common grounds for sustaining protests. This only begs the question: why would Congress require GAO to do something it’s already required to do (and that it’s already doing)?

One possible explanation is that Congress is not getting the information it wants. That is, Congress might want more detail than GAO currently provides. For instance, in its Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report, the GAO’s list of common grounds for sustained protests included only four items: “(1) unreasonable technical evaluation; (2) unreasonable past performance evaluation; (3) unreasonable cost or price evaluation; and (4) flawed selection decision.”

Broad categories like these don’t offer much in the way of helpful information for agencies to improve the acquisition process. If GAO were able to provide additional detail,  it might enable new rules or procedures that improve the procurement process.

In fairness to GAO, though, its ability to provide anything beyond broad generalizations is very limited. Each protest relates to a different solicitation, issued by a different agency, with different technical requirements, different evaluation criteria, and different source selection procedures. GAO can probably do better than “unreasonable technical evaluation,” such as (for example) something like “use of unstated evaluation criteria in technical evaluation.” But beyond that, the differences between each solicitation and evaluation would make summarizing the similarities between sustained protests nearly impossible.

The 2017 NDAA was signed into law on December 23, 2016. Now that the 2017 NDAA is the law of the land, it will be interesting to see what additional information—if any—is included in GAO’s FY 2017 Annual Report.


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Koprince Law LLC

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act will increase the DoD’s micro-purchase threshold to $5,000.

Under the conference bill recently approved by both House and Senate, the DoD’s micro-purchase threshold will be $1,500 greater than the standard micro-purchase threshold applicable to civilian agencies.

A micro-purchase is an acquisition by the government of supplies or services that, because the aggregate is below a certain price, allows the government to use simplified acquisition procedures without having to hold a competition, conduct market research, or set aside the procurement for small businesses. In other words, if the price is low enough, the agency can buy it at Wal-Mart using a government credit card, without running afoul of the law.

Although there are many different thresholds, the FAR puts the general micro-purchase threshold at $3,500. But Section 821 of the proposed 2017 NDAA will add a new section to chapter 137 of title 10 of the United States Code giving the DoD its own micro-purchase threshold of $5,000.

It may not sound like much, but that’s nearly a 43% increase from the current micro-purchase threshold (and the threshold that will remain applicable to most agencies). Although DoD procurement officials will undoubtedly enjoy their new flexibility, some small contractors may not be so pleased–after all, once the micro-purchase threshold applies, there is no mandate that the government use (or even consider) small businesses.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA. 


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Koprince Law LLC

Coming as welcome news for collaborative R&D, the 2017 NDAA will extend the life of the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs.

The conference version of the bill, which seems likely to be on the President’s desk in short order, contains provisions extending both programs for five years.

SBIR and STTR are unique research, development, and commercialization programs overseen by the SBA. Each program calls for a three-phase process. In the first two phases, R&D is funded by the government; the third phase of each program involves commercialization. Although the programs have many similarities, there are also important differences. For example, in the SBIR program, a small business may collaborate with a non-profit research institution; in the SBIR program, such collaboration is required.

Both programs were scheduled to expire on September 30, 2017. The 2017 NDAA extends the lifespan of the programs through September 30, 2022. This extension will allow small businesses to continue their collaboration with research institutions to develop new technologies for a variety of applications—good news for businesses and universities doing research in cutting edge fields.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 appears poised beneath the President’s pen for signing. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next several days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA.


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Koprince Law LLC

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act establishes a preference for the DoD to use fixed-price contracts, and will require executive approval of cost reimbursement procedures for certain high-dollar procurements.

Section 829 of the 2017 NDAA is titled, quite simply, “Preference for Fixed-Price Contracts.” Section 829 specifies that, within 180 days after the 2017 NDAA is enacted, the DFARS are to be revised to establish a preference for fixed-price contracts (including fixed-price incentive fee contracts) when a DoD determines which contract type to use for a particular acquisition.

It isn’t clear whether Congress intends the DFARS to ultimately include a stronger fixed-price preference than already exists in the FAR. At present, FAR 16.301-2 and FAR 16.301-3 place important limitations on a Contracting Officer’s ability to select a cost reimbursement contract type, including, under FAR 16.301-2, where “[c]ircumstances do not allow the agency to define its requirements sufficiently to allow for a fixed-price type contract.”

The 2017 NDAA’s preference for DoD fixed-price contracts does go beyond the FAR in one important respect. Starting on October 1, 2018, a DoD contracting officer will not be permitted to enter into a cost reimbursement contract in excess of $50 million unless the contract is approved by “the service acquisition executive of the military department concerned, the commander of the combatant command concerned, or the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (as applicable).” The threshold for approval will fall further to $25 million on October 1, 2019.

Given the existing FAR restrictions on cost reimbursement contracts, it remains to be seen whether Section 829 will represent a significant shift in DoD procurement policy. DoD’s proposed DFARS amendments, which should be published by mid-2017, will shed some light.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 appears poised beneath the president’s pen for signing. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to.


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Koprince Law LLC

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act gives certain small subcontractors a new tool to request past performance ratings from the government,

If the pilot program works as intended, it may ultimately improve those subcontractors’ competitiveness for prime contract bids, for which a documented history of past performance is often critical.

For small contractors looking to break into the federal marketplace, a lack of past performance ratings can be a major problem. Without government past performance ratings, it can be difficult to prevail in a “best value” competition. Sure, FAR 15.305 provides that the government can consider past projects performed for non-governmental entities, and the same FAR section states than an offeror without a record of relevant past performance should receive a “neutral” rating. But ask most contractors, and they’ll tell you that their perception–for better or for worse–is that an offeror without government past performance references can be at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Perhaps Congress agrees. Section 1822 of the 2017 NDAA creates a pilot program that will allow a “first tier” subcontractor performing on a government contract, which required the prime contractor to develop a subcontracting plan, to submit an application to the appropriate official (agencies will designate a recipient) requesting a past performance rating. Interestingly, the subcontractor will be able to include a suggested rating, but will have to support the suggestion with written evidence, almost as if the subcontractor will have to plead its case. The application will then go to both the agency Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization and the prime contractor for review. Each will submit an official response within 30 days.

If the OSDBU and prime contractor agree with the suggested rating, the official simply will enter the rating into the government’s past performance system, and the subcontractor will be able to use the rating “to establish its past performance for a prime contract.”

However, if they disagree with the subcontractor’s suggested rating, the disagreeing party will submit a notice contesting the application, the official will provide the subcontractor with the notice, and the subcontractor will have 14 days to submit comments, rebuttals, and additional information. But, interestingly, the review will stop there. No decider will determine whether the subcontractor’s proposed rating was “right” or “wrong.” Instead, the official with then enter a neutral rating into the system along with the original application and any responses.

This pilot program may turn out to be a valuable tool for companies with excellent performance at the subcontract level but little or no prime contract experience. The program’s timing may be fortuitous, as well: it could dovetail nicely with the SBA’s new “All Small” mentor-protege program, as well as the existing SBA 8(a) and DoD mentor-protege programs. As a part of a mentor-protege agreement, a large mentor could subcontract work to the protege, then help the protege apply for (and hopefully receive) an excellent past performance rating for its work.

However, in practice, there would seem to be a few areas where things may go awry. First, since subcontractors are responsible for suggesting their own ratings, this introduces the obvious potential that a subcontractor could attempt to inflate its score–and put its prime contractor in the difficult position of disagreeing with its teaming partner. Also, on the flip side, the procedure allows for the prime contractor to potentially derail a future competitor by disagreeing with a reasonable suggested rating, and thereby ensure through simple disagreement, at best, a neutral rating. Because there is no adjudicative procedure, the subcontractor seems to have no recourse if the prime contractor doesn’t provide a fair response.

Then there is the question of why OSDBUs are expected to weigh in on the specific past performance scores assigned to small subcontractors. Agency OSDBUs are advocates for small businesses, and are involved in various ways throughout the acquisition cycle. That said, it seems unlikely that an OSDBU will, in the typical case, have sufficient knowledge of a particular small subcontractor’s quality of performance to pass independent judgment on what past performance score that subcontractor should receive. Involving agency OSDBUs ordinarily is a good thing, but requiring them to pass judgment on a subcontractor’s past performance might not be the best way to go about it.

Finally, there is the question of just what sort of weight the typical contracting officer will afford to these ratings. Although the rating comes from the contracting agency, the rating itself is established by the subcontractor, prime contractor, and OSDBU. It’s possible that some contracting officers will see these ratings as less persuasive than “ordinary” prime contractor ratings developed by government contracting officials.

Fortunately, Congress seems to have anticipated that the pilot program might need to be improved. The 2017 NDAA requires the GAO to assess the program one year after it is established and report various findings back to Congress, including “any suggestions or recommendation the Comptroller General has to improve the operation of the pilot program.”

The statute calls for the SBA to establish the pilot program, but doesn’t provide a specific deadline for the SBA to do so. Once the program is up and running, it will last for three years,, beginning on “the date on which the first applicant small business concern receives a past performance rating for performance as a first tier subcontractor.” At that point, it will be up to Congress whether to continue the pilot program.


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Koprince Law LLC

Good news for small business looking to break into Department of Defense contracting: the 2017 NDAA establishes a new prototyping pilot program for small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors to develop new and innovative technologies.

The DoD is putting its money where its mouth is: the new pilot program is funded with $250 million from the rapid prototyping fund established by last year’s NDAA.

The new pilot program is officially called the “Nontraditional and Small Contractor Innovation Prototyping Program.” Under the program, the authorized funds are to be used to “design, develop, and demonstrate innovative prototype military platforms of significant scope for the purpose of demonstrating new capabilities that could provide alternatives to existing acquisition programs and assets.”

Congress is relying on the DoD to develop many of the program’s parameters. The 2017 NDAA calls for the Secretary of Defense to submit, with its budget request for Fiscal Year 2018, “a plan to fund and carry out the pilot program in future years.”

In the meantime, Congress has authorized $50 million to be made available for the following projects in FY 2017:

(1) Swarming of multiple unmanned air vehicles.

(2) Unmanned, modular fixed-wing aircraft that can be rapidly adapted to multiple missions and serve as a fifth generation weapons augmentation platform.

(3) Vertical takeoff and landing tiltrotor aircraft.

(4) Integration of a directed energy weapon on an air, sea, or ground platform.

(5) Swarming of multiple unmanned underwater vehicles.

(6) Commercial small synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites with on-board machine learning for automated, real-time feature extraction and predictive analytics.

(7) Active protection system to defend against rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles.

(8) Defense against hypersonic weapons, including sensors.

(9) Other systems as designated by the Secretary.

In addition to sounding like something out of a science fiction movie, these categories provide insight into some of Congress’s (and DoD’s) prototyping priorities–particularly those in which small and nontraditional contractors are expected to be able to play an important role.

The 2017 NDAA authorizes the prototyping program through September 30, 2026. As the Secretary of Defense will not submit its implementation plan for the pilot program until its next budget request, it may take some time before the program hits full stride. In the interim, interested contractors can start positioning themselves to take advantage of this new opportunity.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 appears poised beneath the president’s pen for signing. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you do not have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA. 


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Koprince Law LLC

Citing an abuse of the protest process, the GAO has suspended a company’s right to file bid protests for a period of one year.

The GAO’s unusual action was taken after the contractor in question filed 150 bid protests in the ongoing fiscal year alone, most of which have been dismissed for technical reasons.  The GAO’s decision also cites “baseless accusations” made by the protester, including accusing GAO officials of being “white collar criminals” and asserting that “various federal officials have engaged in treason.”

The GAO’s decision in Latvian Connection LLC, B-413442 (Aug. 18, 2016) arose under a task order issued by DISA to ManTech Advanced Information Systems, Inc. for engineering services.  The task order in question was issued in 2013, and ManTech completed full performance on January 31, 2016.

After ManTech had completed full performance, Latvian Connection LLC filed a bid protest challenging the task order award.  Latvian Connection alleged that DISA had erred by failing to issue the task order solicitation as a small business set-aside and by failing to publish the solicitation on the FedBizOpps website.

Apparently, this particular protest was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  While the GAO’s decision addressed the particular task order in question, the GAO focused in large part on Latvian Connection’s widespread use of the protest process.

The GAO started by explaining that “our records show that, thus far this fiscal year, Latvian Connection has filed 150 protests with our Office.”  Of those protests, 131 have been decided: one was denied on the merits, and “[t]he remaining protests were dismissed, the most common reason being that Latvian Connection was not an interested party.”  Further, “[a] number of Latvian Connection’s most recent protests, like the instant protest, have been attempts to challenge acquisitions where the contract in question was awarded years ago.”

But it wasn’t just the number and nature of Latvian Connection’s many protests that drew the GAO’s ire; the GAO also found the content of those protests troubling.  The GAO wrote that “Latvian Connection’s protests are typically a collection of excerpts cut and pasted from a wide range of documents having varying degrees of relevance to the procurements at issue, interspersed with remarks from the protester.  The tone of the filings is derogatory and abusive towards both agency officials and GAO attorneys.”  The GAO continued:

While its protests typically revolve around the two central issues noted above, Latvian Connection also routinely makes baseless accusations.  In recent months, Latvian Connection has claimed that agency and GAO officials are white collar criminals; that the actions of agency procurement officials have violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968; that various federal agency officials have engaged in treason; that GAO has violated the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C.§ 504; and that agency and GAO officials have engaged in activities that amount either to engaging in, or covering up, human trafficking and slavery.

The GAO dismissed the protest against the ManTech contract award both for lack of standing and lack of jurisdiction.  The GAO then turned again to Latvian Connection’s protest history.  The GAO noted that, although Latvian Connection had protested hundreds of acquisitions under which the government has sought a wide variety of goods and services, “[p]ublicly available information provides no evidence that Latvian Connection has successfully performed even a single government contract, and there is no evidence in the many cases presented to our Office to suggest that Latvian Connection engages in any government business activity whatsoever beyond the filing of protests.”  The GAO then stated:

The wasted effort related to Latvian Connection’s filings is highlighted by its latest series of protests (including the current protest) challenging acquisitions that were conducted years ago, where performance is complete and there is no possible remedy available. These protests have placed a burden on GAO, the agencies whose procurements have been challenged, and the taxpayers, who ultimately bear the costs of the government’s protest-related activities.  When presented with evidence, as here, that Latvian Connection does not hold the umbrella ID/IQ contract under which the order was issued, or that the order involves an amount lower than the statutory threshold for GAO’s task order jurisdiction, Latvian repeatedly fails to engage with the issues.  Instead, the company simply files a lengthy, often unrelated, harangue that does not address the threshold issues that must be answered by any forum as part of its review. 

We conclude that the above-described litigation practices by Latvian Connection constitute an abuse of our process, and we dismiss the protest on this basis.  Although dismissal for abuse of process or other improper behavior before our Office should be employed only in the rarest of cases, it is appropriate here where we find that Latvian Connection’s abusive litigation practices undermine the integrity and effectiveness of our process.

In addition, the GAO wrote, “because of these abusive litigation practices, and to protect the integrity of our bid protest forum and provide for the orderly and expedited resolution of protests, we are suspending Latvian Connection from protesting to our Office for a period of one year as of the date of this decision.”  The GAO remarked that it does “not take these actions lightly,” but “[n]onetheless, on balance, suspending for one year Latvian Connection’s eligibility to file protests with our Office may incentivize the firm to focus on pursuing legitimate grievances in connection with acquisitions for which there is evidence that Latvian Connection actually is interested in competing.”

The GAO concluded:

Our bid protest process does not provide, and was never intended to provide, a platform for the complaints of businesses or individuals that, to all outward appearances, have no actual interest in, or capability to perform, the government contracting opportunities to which they have objected.  Nor, as a forum for the expeditious and inexpensive resolution of bid protests, are we required to endure baseless and abusive accusations.

A reader of the GAO’s decision might conclude that all of Latvian Connection’s protests have been frivolous.  Not so.  SmallGovCon readers will recall that last year, the GAO actually sustained two of Latvian Connection’s protests, involving FedBid reverse auctions and these decisions established (at least in my eyes) important precedent concerning agencies’ responsibilities when using FedBid.  The GAO also sustained a third Latvian Connection protest in a case confirming that offerors are not presumed to be “on notice” of agency postings on websites other than FedBizOpps.

In fairness to Latvian Connection, then, it is clear that at least a handful of its many protests have been meritorious.  That said, I can’t begin to imagine why a single company would feel the need to file 150 protests in the span of one not-yet-completed fiscal year.  And while I haven’t had the opportunity to review the contents of Latvian Connection’s protest filings myself, I believe that the protest system works best where the litigants (even though adversarial) treat each other with basic norms of courtesy and respect.  If Latvian Connection failed to meet this standard–as suggested by the various “baseless accusations” referenced in the GAO decision–then that failure alone is detrimental to the protest process.

The Latvian Connection case may become known for the effect it will have on a single company, but I think it’s broader than that: the GAO knows that allowing abuse of the protest system harms those who use the system in the way it was intended, and risks political intervention that might harm all contractors’ ability to file good faith protests.  And in a world where 45% of GAO protests result in a favorable outcome for the protester, there can be little doubt that the good faith use of the protest system serves an important public purpose.  Contractors can ill afford a Congressional rollback of their protest rights.  As the Latvian Connection case demonstrates, the GAO itself possesses the inherent authority to sanction what it believes to be abuse of the protest system, and will exercise that authority in an appropriate (and rare) case.


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Koprince Law LLC

In August, I wrote about a highly unusual case in which a company–which had filed 150 protests in the current fiscal year–was suspended from filing GAO bid protests for one year. I recently spoke with Tom Temin on his radio show Federal Drive to talk about GAO’s  decision.

If you missed the live conversation, you can click here to listen to the recorded audio from Federal News Radio. And be sure to tune in to Federal Drive with Tom Temin, which airs from 6-10 a.m EST on 1500 AM in the Washington, DC region and online everywhere.


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Koprince Law LLC

This is it: the 1,000th SmallGovCon post.  And if you’re reading this, you are a big reason why we’ve hit such a major milestone in less than five years.

Thank you, SmallGovCon readers.

Before I launched SmallGovCon, I thought it would be a good idea to read a bunch of other legal blogs, just to get a sense of how others were doing it.  A few hours in, and I was ready to beat my head against the nearest wall.  While, in fairness, a few of the blogs were quite good, most of them were pretty darn rough.  These not-so-great blogs proved quite inspirational, however: I figured out what annoyed me about them, and resolved to do the exact opposite.

First things first: most of these legal blogs were chock full of unnecessary legalese, arcane Latin phrases, cumbersome in-text citations, and the like.  Sure, we lawyers spend three years in law school learning to read this stuff, but to a regular person, there’s not a whole lot of difference between Legalese and Klingon.  I decided that, because SmallGovCon‘s intended audience was smart government contractors and acquisition professionals–not Ruth Bader Ginsburg–I would write SmallGovCon in plain English.  (And if you are into random jargon, well, there are other websites for that).

The next thing I noticed was that most of these blogs suffered from a serious lack of personality.  Were the authors actual human beings, or jargon-spouting lawyer robots?  Sometimes, it was hard to tell.  I happen to own this shirt, which expresses an important fact about lawyers: we’re people!  Seriously!  In honor of my membership in the human race, I decided that I occasionally would subject SmallGovCon‘s readers to random musings about things near and dear to my heart, like my kids and the Chicago Cubs.  But beyond that, I decided that SmallGovCon wouldn’t be afraid to express a point of view, like we did throughout our coverage of the Kingdomware saga.

During my “blog due diligence,” it also quickly became clear that many of these blogs were updated about as often as the Cleveland Browns make the playoffs.  That is to say, infrequently.  It’s hard to imagine becoming a go-to website in any field–much less a rapidly-changing field like government contracts law–without publishing often.  Would you visit a website with a tagline like “Your Seasonal Guide to a Few Random Things Happening in Government Contracts”?  Yeah, me neither.  So I decided to publish frequently.

Due diligence complete, I launched the blog in late May 2012.  One big question remained: would anyone read it?  Was there an audience for a niche blog on government contracts law?

Hundreds of thousands of page views later, I’ve got my answer.  But the feedback that matters most isn’t from Google Analytics.  It’s from the readers I meet at industry events across the country, who approach me–completely unsolicited–to say how much they enjoy the blog and our free electronic newsletter.  It’s from the readers who take the time to email me to thank me for a particular post, or ask a follow-up question.  It’s from my many LinkedIn connections, who frequently comment on blog posts and spark insightful discussions.  Thanks to you, dear readers, I know that SmallGovCon serves an important role in the procurement community–and that’s what matters most to me.

Of course, SmallGovCon has grown and changed throughout the last several years, too.  My fantastic colleagues at Koprince Law LLC have become co-authors, which has allowed us to broaden our coverage.  We added our “Week In Review” feature to help update readers on important government contracting news.  We recently kicked off our GovCon Voices series to offer perspectives from non-attorney thought leaders.  I’m proud of SmallGovCon, but we’re not resting on our laurels.  My colleagues and I will continue to work to make the site even better.

The first 1,000 posts have come quickly.  Thank you very much for reading.  I hope you’ll stick with us for the next 1,000.


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Koprince Law LLC

An agency may modify a contract without running afoul of the Competition in Contracting Act, so long as the the modification is deemed “in scope.” An “out of scope” modification, on the other hand, is improper–and may be protested at GAO.

In a recent bid protest decision, GAO denied a protest challenging an agency’s modification of a contract where the modification was within scope and of a nature that competitors could have reasonably anticipated at the time of award. In its decision, GAO explained the difference between an in scope and out of scope modification, including the factors GAO will use to determine whether the modification is permissible.

The GAO’s decision in Zodiac of North America, Inc., B-414260 (Mar. 28, 2017), involved a U.S. Army Contracting Command solicitation for a contractor to produce a seven-person inflatable combat raiding craft (I-CRC) and a 15-person inflatable combat assault craft (I-CAC). The Army initially issued the solicitation in February 2013.

The solicitation included purchase descriptions, which set forth the product requirements for the boats and motors. Specifically, the submersible outboard motors for the I-CRC and I-CAC required “they propel a fully-loaded craft (2,120 pounds and 4,000 pounds, respectively) at 16 knots during sea state 1 (calm water) within two minutes.” As part of the solicitation, offerors were also informed that they were required to provide two units of each the I-CRC and I-CAC for article testing in accordance with FAR 52.209-4. If the government disapproved the first article, upon the government’s request, the contractor was required to make any necessary changes, modifications, or repairs to the first article or select another first article for testing.

The Army evaluated proposals and awarded the contract. Zodiac, an unsuccessful offeror, protested the award to GAO arguing that the Army should have found the awardee’s proposal technically unacceptable because the awardee’s proposed boats were insufficient to meet the speed requirements detailed by the solicitation. GAO denied the protest in Zodiac of North America, B-409084 et al. (Jan. 17, 2014) finding that Zodiac had proposed the same motors as the awardee, and the Army had reasonably relied on the awardee’s test reports demonstrating the product’s compliance with the solicitation’s speed requirements.

Likely unsatisfied with GAO’s decision, Zodiac subsequently filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2016. Through this request, Zodiac learned the Army had modified the contract requirements after the awardee twice failed product testing. The modification revised both the purchase description for the boats and the motors. It resulted in a 10 percent reduction in the propeller weight of the motors, a three-inch dimensional increase in the hard deck floor and storage bag, and removal of the airborne transportability requirement. Believing these revisions of the contract terms amounted to an improper sole source award contract, Zodiac protested again.

GAO explained that the Competition in Contracting Act ordinarily requires “the use of competitive procedures” to award government work. However, “[o]nce a contract is awarded…[it] will generally not review modifications to the contract because such matters are related to contract administration and are beyond the scope of [its] bid protest function.”

While a modification that changes the contract’s scope of work is an exception to this rule, such a modification is only objectionable where there is a “material difference” between the modified contract and the original contract. A material difference exists when “a contract is so substantially changed by the modification that the original and modified contracts are essentially and materially different.” A material difference typically arises when an agency enlarges a contract’s scope of work, the relaxation of contract requirements post-award (as alleged by Zodiac) can also be a material difference.

In assessing whether there is a material difference, GAO will look to:

[T]he extent of any changes in the type of work, performance period, and costs between the modification and the original contract, as well as whether the original solicitation adequately advised offerors of the potential for the change or whether the change was the type that reasonably could have been anticipated, and whether the modification materially changed the field of competition for the requirement.”

In this case, considering these factors, GAO found that the modification did not substantially change the scope of the original contract, competitors for the initial solicitation could have reasonably anticipated the changes to the contract, and the changes to the contract would not have had a substantial impact on the field of competition for the original contract award. Importantly, the deliverables still functioned as seven-person I-CRCs and 15-person I-CACs, and the awardee remained subject to the same performance period. GAO held that there was not a material difference, and denied Zodiac’s protest.

Zodiac of North America is a useful primer on when a modification crosses the line into an improper sole source award. As demonstrated in Zodiac, the key is whether there is a material difference between the modified contract and the awarded contract.


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Koprince Law LLC

One might think that when an electronic proposal is received by a government server before the solicitation’s deadline, the proposal isn’t late. A government server is under government control, so the proposal is timely, right?

Not necessarily, at least the way the GAO sees it. As one contractor recently learned, waiting until the last minute to submit a proposal electronically carries significant risk that the proposal will not be considered timely, even if the proposal reaches the government server in time.

Peers Health, B-413557.3 (March 16, 2017) involved a Navy RFQ for occupational health disability and treatment guidelines. Quotations were to be submitted no later than 12:00 p.m. EST on November 28, 2016. The RFQ stated that quotations were to be submitted via email to a certain point of contact, and at an email address identified in the solicitation. Alternatively, offerors could submit their proposals by regular or overnight mail.

The Solicitation incorporated FAR 52.212-1 (Instructions to Offerors – Commercial Items), which provides, among other things, that proposals not timely received will not be considered for award. Notably, FAR 52.212-1 provides the following exceptions under which the government may accept late proposals:

(A) If [the proposal] was transmitted through an electronic commerce method authorized by the solicitation, it was received at the initial point of entry to the Government infrastructure not later than 5:00 p.m. one working day prior to the date specified for receipt of offers; or

(B) There is acceptable evidence to establish that it was received at the Government installation designated for receipt of offers and was under the Government’s control prior to the time set for receipt of offers. . . .

FAR 52.212-1(f)(2)(i). As the regulation explains, proposals received after the deadline for proposal submission will be considered timely if they are submitted electronically the day before the submission deadline, or if the government received the proposal and was in control of it prior to the submission deadline.

Peers submitted its quotation by email at 11:59 a.m. on November 28, 2016—one minute before the deadline. While the government server received the submission at 11:59 a.m., Peers’ email did not reach its final destination (the point of contact identified in the RFQ)  until 3:49 p.m. GAO did not explain what caused the lengthy delay in transmission from the server to the Navy point of contact.

The Navy eliminated Peers from the competition, stating that Peers’ quotation was untimely. After Peers learned of the Navy’s decision, it filed a GAO bid protest.

Peers argued that under FAR 52.212-1(f)(2)(i)(B), its proposal was timely because the email was received by the government’s server at 11:59 a.m. As such, Peers contended, its proposal was eligible for the timeliness exemption under FAR 52.212-1(f)(2)(i)(B) because it was “received at the government installation designated for receipt of offers and was under the Government’s control prior to the time set for receipt of offers . . . .”

GAO was not convinced. GAO explained that in an earlier case, Sea Box, Inc., B-291056, 202 CPD ¶ 181 (Comp. Gen. Oct. 31, 2002), GAO had ruled that only FAR 52.212-1(f)(2)(i)(A) applied to electronically submitted proposals because it spoke directly to the issue of electronic submission. GAO concluded that applying the broader government control exception found in FAR 52.212(f)(2)(i)(B) to electronic submission would make the specific day prior requirements for electronic submission redundant. To the dismay of Sea Box, GAO concluded the government control exception does not apply to electronic submissions.

Applying its reasoning from Sea Box, GAO concluded Peers’ proposal submission was untimely because it was neither received by the intended recipient prior to the closing date for proposal submission, nor received before 5:00 p.m. the working day prior to proposals being due. As such, Peers’ proposal was properly eliminated from competition as untimely, even though it had reached a government server before the deadline.

Interestingly, the Court of Federal Claims disagrees with the GAO’s reasoning in Sea Box (and, presumably, in Peers Health, as well).  In Watterson Construction Company v. United States, 98 Fed. Cl. 84 (2012), the Court carefully analyzed the regulatory history of the exceptions, and concluded that the “government control” exception does apply to emailed proposals. The Court has since confirmed its ruling, most recently in Federal Acquisition Services Team, LLC v. United States, No. 15-78C (Feb. 16, 2016).

In our view here at SmallGovCon, the Court has the better position: and not just because arguing with a federal judge isn’t usually a good idea. The regulation states that a late proposal may be accepted where the electronic commerce “or” the government control exception applies. The plain language of the regulation (and the Court’s careful study of the underlying history) suggest to us that Peers should have won its protest.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, it’s bad news when the GAO and Court disagree about an important matter of government contracting. True, the GAO isn’t required to follow the Court’s rules. However, a bid protest shouldn’t turn on which forum the protester selects. My colleagues and I hope that the GAO reconsiders its position in future protests.

Perhaps Peers will take its case to the Court and obtain a different result. For now, contractors should be aware that under the GAO’s current precedent, the only way to ensure that an electronic proposal submission is timely received is to file before 5:00 p.m. the day before proposals are due. If the proposal is submitted later, and gets stuck on the government’s server, a potential protester should make plans to skip the GAO and head directly to the Court of Federal Claims.


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