Jump to content
The Wifcon Forums and Blogs

Sign in to follow this  
  • entries
  • comments
  • views

Entries in this blog

Koprince Law LLC

As a general rule, an agency is only required to evaluate a fixed-price offer for reasonableness (that is, whether the price is too high). Agencies are not required to evaluate fixed-price offers for realism (that is, whether the price is too low) and, in fact, cannot do so unless the solicitation advises offerors that a realism evaluation will be conducted.

GAO recently reaffirmed this principle when it denied a protest challenging an agency’s refusal to consider the realism of offerors’ fixed prices as part of a corrective action, even though the agency suspected that at least one offeror’s price was unrealistically low.

Under FAR 15.404-1(d)(3), an agency may evaluate fixed-price contracts for realism “in exceptional cases,” but it is not required to do so. Ripple Effect Communications, B-413722.2 (Jan. 17, 2017), confirmed the breadth of an agency’s discretion to evaluate—or not—fixed price offers for realism.

Ripple Effect involved a challenge to the terms of a corrective action following Venesco, LLC’s protest challenging an award made to Ripple. Venesco argued in its protest that the Army improperly declared its price to be unrealistic, in part because the solicitation was ambiguous as to whether offerors’ fixed prices would be evaluated for realism. The Army then announced that the procurement would be resolicited, and made clear that price realism would not be evaluated.

Ripple then protested the scope of this corrective action, arguing that the Army should be required to evaluate offerors’ prices for realism. Ripple noted that the Army’s evaluation of Venesco’s proposal already revealed concerns with Venesco’s labor rates, “which were far below the average of all evaluated proposals in all but one labor category.” Thus, “it would be unreasonable for the agency not to consider the risk posed by Venesco’s prices.”

In response to these arguments, the Army noted that it never intended to evaluate offerors’ proposed prices for realism. And although Venesco’s debriefing noted concern with unrealistic prices, the Army called this a “conclusory finding” that was not actually based on a completed price realism evaluation. In any event, offerors’ ability to submit revised proposals (including prices) mitigated any need for a price realism evaluation.

GAO agreed with the agency and denied the challenge to the corrective action. In doing so, it relied on an agency’s broad discretion to evaluate (or not) price realism under fixed-price solicitations:

Because the solicitation contemplates the award of a fixed-price contract, the agency’s intended evaluation approach is consistent with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which establishes that an agency “may . . . in exceptional cases,” provide for a price realism evaluation when awarding a fixed-price contract, but is not required to do so. Given the agency’s broad discretion to decide whether to include a price realism evaluation in this instance, we have no basis to conclude that the agency’s decision was unreasonable.

Denying Ripple’s protest, GAO reaffirmed the principle that agencies have broad discretion to evaluate fixed-price offers for realism. Ripple Effect shows the breadth of this discretion—even where an agency has reason to suspect an offeror’s fixed-price might be unrealistically low, it is not required to evaluate that price for realism unless the solicitation specifically says otherwise.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

It’s been a very busy week in government contracting with the SBA issuing its final rule on the small business mentor-protege program. It has given us here at Koprince Law a lot to read over and blog about so that SmallGovCon readers can stay abreast of all of the changes packed inside this lengthy document.

But as important as the mentor-protege rule is for small and large contractors alike, it’s not the only government contracts news making headlines this week.  In this week’s SmallGovCon Week in Review, you’ll find articles on proposed new whistleblower protections, opportunities for small businesses at the close of the fiscal year, significant pricing discrepancies under GSA Schedule contracts, and much more.

  • A new bipartisan measure would give subgrantees and personal services contractors the same whistleblower protections currently afforded contractors, grant recipients  and subcontractors. [Government Executive]
  • An advocacy group for small businesses is once again claiming that  giant corporations are reaping billions from federal small business contracts. [Mother Jones]
  • It’s not too late to get in on the fourth quarter government spending bonanza so long as you are a company that has some prospects in the pipeline. [Federal News Radio]
  • DoD’s new procurement evaluation process is moving toward objectivism and a more mathematical system of judgement, as part of an overall shift in favor of Lowest Price Technically Available evaluations.  [Federal News Radio]
  • Officials at five Army components failed to fully comply with rules for evaluating contractors’ past performance when awarding those firms work. [Government Executive]
  • An audit report shows that Army officials did not consistently comply with requirements for assessing contractor performance. [Office of Inspector General]
  • IT reseller contracts present significant challenges for the GSA’s schedules program, according to a GSA IG report. [Office of Inspector General]
  • Nearly half of the Democratic House caucus asked defense authorization conferees to remove “harmful language” narrowing the application of the Fair Play and Safe Workplaces executive order. [Bloomberg BNA]
  • Small businesses can find plenty of opportunities as the curtain comes down on the federal fiscal year. [Government Product News]
  • An update to the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law earlier this month and mandates a presumption of openness, and adds new appeal rights for citizens whose requests are denied. [Federal News Radio]

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

With the finalization of the new SBA Small Business Mentor Protégé Program, other agencies without statutorily-authorized mentor-protege programs must seek SBA approval of their mentor-protege programs within one year, if they wish those programs to continue.

In a final rule scheduled to be effective August 24, 2016, the SBA questioned the need for other agencies (except the Department of Defense) to continue to operate their own mentor-protege programs, but provided a road map for agencies to preserve their separate mentor-protege programs if they wish.


As we have discussed in detail on SmallGovCon, the new “universal” small business mentor-protégé program establishes a government-wide program open to all small businesses, consistent with the SBA’s mentor-protégé program for participants in SBA’s 8(a) Program. But the final rule doesn’t just add a new SBA mentor-protege program–it may also signal the end of many other Federal mentor-protege programs.

Under the final rule, a Federal department or agency can no longer operate its own mentor-protégé program, unless: 1) the agency submits a program plan to the SBA, and 2) receives the SBA Administrator’s approval of the plan within one year of the SBA’s mentor-protégé regulations finalization. The requirement for SBA approval does not apply to DoD, which has special statutory authority to operate its own mentor-protege program. However, the SBA approval requirement does apply to most other Federal mentor-protege programs, including those operated by the VA, NASA, DHS, State Department, and so on.

The SBA “received only a few comments” regarding the proposal to require most agencies to obtain SBA approval to continue independent mentor-protege programs. These commenters “agreed with the statutory provisions in questioning the utility of other Federal mentor-protege programs” now that the SBA has established a mentor-protege program open to all small businesses. However, commenters raised two specific concerns about the potential phase-out of other agencies’ mentor-protege programs: 1) Would the new regulations be a disincentive for mentors to utilize their protégés as subcontractors? And, 2) would the SBA have the necessary resources to handle mentor-protégé applications for the entire government?

Many of the other agency-specific mentor-protégé programs incentivize mentors to utilize their protégés as subcontractors. For example, some agencies provide additional evaluation points to a large business submitting an offer on an unrestricted procurement where the large business is using its protege as its subcontractor. Other agencies give a large prime contractor additional credit toward its subcontracting plan goals where the large prime contractor uses its protege as a subcontractor.

The SBA acknowledged that the new small business mentor-protege program “assume more of a prime contractor role for proteges, but would also encourage subcontracts from mentors to proteges as part of the developmental assistance that proteges receive from their mentors.” The SBA declined to adopt specific subcontracting incentives as part of its final rule, but will allow individual procuring agencies the flexibility to do so. The SBA writes:

SBA believes that it is up to individual procuring agencies whether to provide subcontracting incentives for any specific procurement, SBA also believes that these incentives should be authorized and used, where appropriate. As such, this final rule identifies subcontracting incentives as a possible benefit to be provided by procuring activities in appropriate circumstances. The final rule authorizes procuring activities to provide incentives in the contract evaluation process to a firm that will provide significant subcontracting work to its SBA-approved protégé firm.

With respect to the processing of mentor-protege applications, the SBA writes that it is “working to adequately process mentor-protege applications,” but if it is unable to handle the volume of applications and agreements, the SBA may institute “open” and “closed” periods wherein the SBA would only accept mentor-protégé applications in the “open” periods. Since the SBA itself is unable to predict whether it will have the resources to process mentor-protege applications year-round, other agencies will have to decide for themselves whether this uncertainty is a reason to maintain separate mentor-protege programs.

The government’s mentor-protege programs have been in a state of flux since early 2013, when Congressfirst directed the SBAto adopt rules governing other agencies’ mentor-protege programs. In 2017, we should finally get some long-awaited clarity as to whether other agencies’ mentor-protege programs will continue.


View the full article


Koprince Law LLC

Ordinarily, whether an offeror’s proposed personnel actually perform under a contract is a non-protestable matter of contract administration. But GAO will consider the issue when an offeror proposes personnel that it did not have a reasonable basis to expect to provide during contract performance in order to obtain a more favorable evaluation. Such a “bait and switch” amounts to a material misrepresentation that undermines the integrity of the procurement and evaluation.

That’s exactly what happened in a recent protest, where the GAO disqualified the awardee from competition after determining that its proposal misrepresented the incumbent employees’ availability to continue working under the contract.

At issue in Patricio Enterprises, Inc., B-412738 et al. (May 26, 2016) was a task order solicitation to provide support for five product management teams for the Marine Corps’ Program Manager, Infantry Weapons Systems. Patricio and Knowledge Capital Associates (“KCA”) were each incumbents for some of these requirements under different existing task orders. The solicitation combined those services and contracts into one procurement.

The solicitation had three evaluation criteria: Management and Staffing Capability, Past Performance, and Price. The first (and most important) factor was comprised of two subfactors (Management and Staffing Capability). Under the Staffing Capability subfactor, offerors were required to provide a detailed approach to staffing that met the PWS requirements, and to provide detailed information (such as labor qualifications, proposed labor categories, and organizational structure) for its key personnel and other staff. The agency would then evaluate this subfactor by reviewing the “capabilities, qualifications, and experience of each offeror’s proposed key personnel” and the processes, resources, and organizational structure necessary to support the PWS tasks. The Government would also evaluate the offeror’s “approach to providing staffing necessary to achieve full performance by month five[.]”

Patricio and KCA timely submitted offerors, which were rated equally under the Management and Staffing Capability and Past Performance factors. Because KCA’s price was almost $5 million less than Patricio’s, KCA was named the awardee.

After Patricio’s attorneys obtained a copy of KCA’s proposal (probably as part of the Agency Report responding to Patricio’s initial protest), Patricio challenged KCA’s staffing approach. KCA, in short, touted its ability to begin work on “day one without missing a beat[.]” KCA further promised 100% staffing on “the very next day” following expiration of the existing support contracts.

KCA’s aggressive transition plan was based in part on KCA’s representations that it would employ incumbent personnel under its award. KCA went so far as to claim it had “signed contingent offers for select personnel” working for other companies (including Patricio) under incumbent contracts, and that these individuals “will be available at the immediate start of the Task Order.”

These representations, though, were (at best) misleading. Patricio produced sworn statements from its employees that were specifically named in KCA’s proposal, in which each person “stated that he or she had not been contacted by the awardee regarding potential employment for the PM IWS task order prior to the time for submission of proposals.”

In its own comments, KCA did not dispute these sworn declarations. Instead, KCA justified its proposal on the basis of discussions with Patricio employees, which led KCA to believe that the Patricio personnel identified in its proposal “would likely be willing to work for KCA in the event it was awarded the task order.” KCA claimed that its reference to “signed contingent offer letters” was misunderstood: according to KCA, this reference simply meant that the letters were prepared and signed by KCA’s president, not that the prospective personnel had signed them (or were even aware of them).

GAO found KCA’s reference to “signed contingent offers” and “signed contingent employment letters” to be an attempt to mislead the agency about KCA’s readiness to perform. GAO wrote that these references “appear[] purposefully crafted to convey that there had been communications with the individuals in question.” KCA’s apparent intent to later attempt to hire these individuals did not excuse this misrepresentation because “regardless of KCA’s intent to hire the individuals named in the proposal, the proposal misrepresented the commitment of the non-KCA employees to work for the awardee.”

KCA’s misrepresentation, moreover, impacted the Marine Corps’ evaluation. According to GAO, KCA earned a strength for its staffing approach and transition approach, which was based in part on KCA’s “approach to providing personnel, including key personnel, who would be capable of performing the work, and would be available at the start of performance.” Absent KCA’s pledge to provide incumbent staffing, it is unlikely that it would have been assessed such a strength.

GAO sustained Patricio’s protest. It also recommended that KCA be excluded from the competition:

[E]xclusion of an offeror from a competition is warranted where it made a material misrepresentation in its proposal and where the agency’s reliance on the misrepresentation had a material effect on the evaluation results. As our Office has stated, where an offeror’s material misrepresentation has a material effect on a competition, the integrity of the procurement system “demands no less” than the remedy of exclusion.

Patricio serves as a cautionary reminder: though offerors might want to increase their chances of award by hyping (or puffing) their abilities, going too far might amount to material misrepresentations. Here, the GAO found that KCA crossed the line–and deserved to be excluded.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

The ongoing federal movement to prevent fraud waste, and abuse in the contracting process continues. And as demonstrated in a recent federal court decision, the government retains its ability to refuse to pay a procurement contract tainted by fraud.

In the recent decision of Laguna Construction Company, Inc. v. Ashton Carter, Appeal Number 15-1291, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed that a procurement contract tainted by violations of the Anti-Kickback Act is voidable under the doctrine of prior material breach.

In 2003, the government awarded Laguna Construction Company a contract to perform work in Iraq. Under the contract, Laguna received 16 cost-reimbursable task orders to perform the work, and awarded subcontracts to a number of subcontractors.

In 2008, the government began investigating allegations that Laguna’s employees were engaged in kickback schemes with its subcontractors. In October 2010, Laguna’s project manager pleaded guilty to conspiracy to pay or receive kickbacks, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and violations of the Anti-Kickback Act, which broadly prohibits prime contractors from soliciting or accepting kickbacks in exchange for awarding subcontracts. The project manager admitted that, for approximately three years, he allowed subcontractors to submit inflated invoices to Laguna, and profited from the difference.

In February 2012, three principal officers of Laguna were charged with receiving kickbacks for awarding subcontracts. The company’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer also was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States by participating in a kickback scheme from December 2004 to February 2009, which he pleaded guilty to in July 2013.

After performing work until 2015, Laguna sought payment of past costs. The government refused a portion of these costs alleging that it was not liable because Laguna had committed a prior material breach by accepting subcontractor kickbacks under the contract. The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals agreed, stating that Laguna “committed the first material breach under this contract, which provided the government with a legal excuse not to pay [Laguna’s] invoices.”

Laguna appealed to the Federal Circuit.  Laguna argued, in part, that any alleged breach was not material because the Government may audit and reconcile costs, thereby “assur[ing] that the Government will incur no damages.”

The Federal Circuit explained that, the prior material breach doctrine, a contractor’s claim against the government may be barred when the contractor breaches the contract through “fraud-based” contract.”  The court further explained that its decision comported with the Supreme Court’s instruction “that the government must be able to ‘rid itself’ of contracts that are ‘tainted’ by fraud, including kickbacks and violation of conflict-of-interest statutes,” citing to the Supreme Court’s prior rationale that:

[E]ven if the Government could isolate and recover the inflation attributable to the kickback, it would still be saddled with a subcontractor who, having obtained the job other than on merit, is perhaps entirely unreliable in other ways. This unreliability in turn undermines the security of the prime contractor’s performance–a result which the public cannot tolerate, especially where, as here, important defense contracts are involved.

In this case, the court wrote that Laguna “committed the first material breach” by agreeing to accept kickbacks from its subcontractors. The court held that “[t]he Board properly determined that these criminal acts constituted material breach that may be imputed to Laguna, since both employees were operating under the contract and within the scope of their employment when they ‘manipulated the contracting process.'”  The court denied Laguna’s appeal, and affirmed the ASBCA’s decision.

This decision provides a cautionary example of one of the many risks involved in accepting kickbacks for awarding subcontracts. The Anti-Kickback Act continues to provide for criminal, civil, and administrative penalties–and some of those penalties were assessed against Laguna’s employees. But the Laguna case demonstrates that violations of the Anti-Kickback Act (and other fraud-based breaches of a government contract) also may excuse the government from paying a contractor’s claim for additional contract costs.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

To encourage joint venturing, the SBA’s size regulations provide a limited exception from affiliation for certain joint venturers: a joint venture qualifies for award of a set-aside contract so long as each venturer, individually, is below the size standard associated with the contract (or one venturer is below the size standard and the other is an SBA-approved mentor, and they have a compliant joint venture agreement). In other words, the SBA ordinarily won’t “affiliate” the joint venturers—that is, add their sizes together—if the joint venture meets the affiliation exception.

Because of this special treatment, it can be easy for the venturers to assume that they are completely exempt from any kind of affiliation. But as the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals recently confirmed, however, the exception isn’t nearly so broad.

The facts in Veterans Construction Coalition, SBA No. SIZ-5824 (Apr. 18, 2017) are relatively straightforward: AWA Business Corporation (an 8(a) company) and Megen Construction Company (a small business) formed a joint venture called Megen-AWA 2 (“MA2”), to bid on and perform various construction projects at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, under an 8(a) set-aside solicitation. The solicitation in question was issued under NAICS code 236220 (Commercial and Institutional Building Construction), with a corresponding $36.5 million size standard.

After evaluating competitive proposals, the Air Force announced that MA2 was the apparent awardee. An unsuccessful competitor filed a size protest, arguing that AWA and Megan were affiliated in various ways, including identity of interest (as the companies were owned by brothers), common management (the brother who owned AWA used to be vice president of Megen), and totality of the circumstances (the companies had worked together under other joint ventures before).

In response to these allegations, MA2 argued, in part, that it qualified as a small business because AWA and Megen both fell below the solicitation’s $36.5 million size standard, as required by the joint venture exception from affiliation. The SBA Area Office agreed, but went a step farther: it held that because AWA and Megan were parties to a joint venture, they could not be affiliated on the “general affiliation” grounds of identity of interest, common management, or totality of the circumstances. The SBA Area Office issued a size determination finding MA2 to be an eligible small business.

On appeal, OHA asked the SBA Office of General Counsel to comment on the breadth of the joint venture exception from affiliation found in 13 C.F.R. § 121.103(h)(3). The SBA Office of General Counsel wrote that the provision “created an exception to affiliation on the basis of participation in a joint venture.” The provision does not create a general exemption to affiliation for joint ventures—“[t]hat is, firms exempted from joint venture affiliation . . . still could be found to be affiliates for reasons other than those set forth in § 121.103(h).”

OHA agreed with the Office of General Counsel. OHA wrote that the affiliation exemption at issue “applied to ‘affiliation under paragraph (h),’ which is affiliation based on joint ventures. Logically, then, the exception was confined to contract-specific affiliation based on joint ventures and did not extend to issues of general affiliation[.]” Because the Area Office did not consider the general affiliation allegations (like identity of interest, common management, and totality of the circumstances), OHA remanded to the Area Office for additional analysis.

Sometimes, small businesses think that their participation in a joint venture serves as a broad exemption from affiliation with their partner. Veterans Construction confirms this isn’t true—joint venture partners can still be deemed affiliated for reasons other than their participation in the joint venture. Knowing when such affiliation might be found—and taking steps to minimize any indicia of affiliation—just might save a contract award.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

An agency failed to meet its obligations to properly publicize a simplified acquisition valued between $15,000 and $25,000 where the agency placed the solicitation in a three-ring binder at the reception desk in a government office–and that office was closed during most of the relevant time.

In a recent decision, the GAO affirmed that principle that even when the dollar value of a simplified acquisition doesn’t meet the requirement for electronic posting on FedBizOpps, the agency still must take reasonable steps to maximize competition.

GAO’s decision in Bluehorse Corp., B-413533 (Oct. 28, 2016) involved a Bureau of Indian Affairs solicitation for diesel fuel for a school district served by the BIA in New Mexico.

After identifying an emergency need for the diesel fuel, the BIA prepared an RFQ on Saturday, July 30.  The RFQ was prepared under the procedures for the streamlined acquisition of commercial items under FAR 12.6, and called for a performance period of delivery from August 2, 2016 through April 30, 2017.

The RFQ stated that because it was an “emergency requirement,” the deadline for receipt of quotations would be August 1, 2016.  Since the contracting officer did not expect the award to meet the FAR’s threshold for electronic posting on FedBizOpps ($25,000), she instead sent the RFQ by email to three firms she had identified as eligible Indian Economic Enterprises.

In addition to sending the RFQ to the three IEEs, the contracting officer placed a copy of the RFQ in a three-ring binder kept at a reception desk of the BIA Navajo Region Contracting Office in Gallup, New Mexico.  That office was closed on Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31.

The BIA received two quotations by August 1.  Both quotations were from vendors who had received the RFQ by email.  The BIA awarded the contract to one of those vendors at a price of $20,800.

After learning of the award, Bluehorse Corporation filed a GAO bid protest.  Bluehorse (which was not one of the three firms that had been sent the RFQ by email) argued that it was eligible to compete for the contract and capable of supplying the diesel fuel, but had been denied a fair opportunity to compete.  In particular, Bluehorse contended that the BIA failed to publicize the requirement properly, which effectively precluded Bluehorse from submitting a quotation.

The GAO wrote that when a procurement is expected to be valued between $15,000 and $25,000, the contracting officer must “display . . . in a public place, or by any appropriate electronic means, an unclassified notice of the solicitation or a copy of the solicitation,” and that the solicitation “must remain posted for at least 10 days or until after quotations have been opened, whichever is later.”

In this case, the GAO held, the BIA did not properly publicize the RFQ:

The BIA’s actions here fell short of the minimum standards for obtaining maximum practicable competition when using simplified acquisition procedures with respect to both publication of the requirement and soliciting sources.  We do not regard the Saturday placement of the solicitation in a binder, in an office that was effectively closed to the public on a weekend, for quotations that were due by 2 p.m. on Monday, as meeting the requirement for public posting. 

The GAO held that “the BIA’s actions fail to show appropriate concern for fair and equitable competition,” and sustained Bluehorse’s protest.

Competition is the cornerstone of the government contracting process, even for most simplified acquisitions.  As the Bluehorse protest demonstrates, even simplified acquisitions between $15,000 and $25,000 must be reasonably publicized to allow for competition.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

As previously foreshadowed and discussed in depth, October 1, 2016, marked the date in which unsuccessful offerors lost the ability to challenge most task order awards issued by civilian agencies.

Although the GAO remains able to hear protests relating to DoD task orders exceeding $10 million, two recent GAO decisions impose an important limitation: GAO does not have jurisdiction to consider awards issued by DoD under a multiple-award contract operated by a civilian agency.

By way of background, for several years, a GAO protest challenging a task order award issued by a civilian agency was not permitted unless it fell under either of the following exceptions:

  1. The protest alleged that the order increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract under which the order was issued; or
  2. The protest challenged an order valued in excess of $10 million.

However, the statute included a sunset provision whereby the second basis of jurisdiction–protests involving task orders in excess of $10 milion–was no longer effective after September 30, 2016. Thus, after this date, an unsuccessful offeror’s ability to protest a task order issued by a civilian agency became limited to only protests alleging the order increased the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract. GAO’s recent decision in Ryan Consulting Group, Inc., B-414014 (Nov. 7, 2016), confirmed its lack of jurisdiction over task and delivery orders valued above $10 million issued under civilian agency multiple-award IDIQ contracts.

While unsuccessful offerors can still challenge task orders issued by the Department of Defense if the order exceeds the $10 million value, see 10 U.S.C. §2304c(3)(1), two recent GAO decisions limit its jurisdiction in this area by holding that when DoD places an order against a civilian IDIQ vehicle, the task order cannot be protested.

In Analytic Strategies LLC, B-413758.2 (Nov. 28, 2016), the DoD issued a solicitation under the GSA’s OASIS vehicle. The solicitation contemplated the award of a task order valued in excess of $125 million. After evaluating initial proposals, the DoD excluded the proposals of Analytic Strategies LLC and Gemini Industries, Inc. from the competitive range. Analytic Strategies filed a GAO bid protest on October 3, 2016; Gemini filed a protest on October 28.

The GAO dismissed both protests, finding that it lacked jurisdiction. The GAO held that because OASIS is a civilian IDIQ, orders issued under OASIS fall under the civilian provisions of 41 U.S.C., and cannot be protested unless the protest alleges that the order exceeds the scope, period, or maximum value of the IDIQ contract.  While the protesters contended that GAO had jurisdiction over its protest under 10 U.S.C., GAO found this argument misplaced. GAO stated that it saw “nothing in the relevant provisions of Titles 10 or 41 that authorize a different result because the agency that will benefit from the task order, fund the task order, or place the task order, is an agency covered by Title 10.”

GAO solidified this position shortly thereafter in HP Enterprise Services, LLC, B-413382.2 (Nov. 30, 2016), again finding it was without jurisdiction to hear a protest in connection with a  task order valued above $10 million issued under a civilian agency multiple-award IDIQ. In HP Enterprise Services, the GSA issued a solicitation to holders of the GSA ALLIANT IDIQ, seeking a contractor to provide various IT support services for the DoD. After receiving notice that it had not been selected, HP Enterprise Services, LLC filed a GAO bid protest challenging the award decision. HPES contended that GAO had jurisdiction over its protest pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 2304c(e), rather than 41 U.S.C. § 4106(f), because the procurement was conducted “on behalf” of the DoD, that it was subject to DoD Regulations, and the performance was funded by the DoD. GAO, however, hung its proverbial hat on the fact that a civilian agency issued the IDIQ, writing that “there can be no doubt that the protested task order has been, or will be, issued under a civilian agency IDIQ contract.”

Interestingly, GAO’s recent decisions depart from its previous practice of citing 10 U.S.C.–the DoD statute, not the civilian statute–in cases like these. For example, in Odyssey Systems Consulting Group, Ltd., B-412519, B-412519.2 (Mar. 11, 2016), the Air Force issued a solicitation under the OASIS contract, and an unsuccessful offeror challenged the resulting award decision. In a footnote explaining why it had jurisdiction to hear the protest, the GAO said:

The awarded value of the task order exceeds $10 million. Accordingly, the procurement is within our jurisdiction to hear protests related to the issuance of orders under multiple-award indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. 10 U.S.C. § 2304c(e)(1)(B). 

Interestingly, even though the Odyssey Systems case involved the same IDIQ at issue in Analytic Strategies, the GAO did not explain its apparent shift in position.

These jurisdictional matters are very important, but the effect of these cases is likely to be short-lived. The U.S. House of Representatives has recently approved a conference version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, and the Senate is expected to approve the same conference bill as early as this week. The conference version of the 2017 NDAA strikes the sunset provision of 41 U.S.C. § 4106(f), thereby reinstating GAO’s jurisdiction to hear task order awards valued above $10 million issued by civilian agencies. Thus, assuming the President signs the bill into law in its current form, unsuccessful offerors once again will be free to protest civilian task orders valued above $10 million. We will keep you posted.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

An agency has been caught creating fake source selection documents to pad its file in response to several GAO bid protests.

A recent GAO bid protest decision shows that, after award, the agency created new source selection documents and revised others, then pretended those documents had been part of the contemporaneous source selection file.  And although the agency’s conduct resulted in the cancellation of a major procurement, it’s not clear whether the agency employees who created the fake documents will face any punishment.

The GAO’s decision in EDC Consulting et al., B-414175.10 et al. (June 9, 2017) involved the DHS solicitation for the Flexible Agile Support for the Homeland or “FLASH” procurement.  The solicitation was to result in 8 to 12 IDIQ contracts, with an estimated value of $1.54 billion. The solicitation called for a “best value” tradeoff considering technical merit, staffing, past performance, and price.

DHS made initial award decisions in November 2016, but after several GAO bid protests were filed, the agency elected to perform a reevaluation.  The reevaluation involved a technical evaluation team and price evaluation team, each of which prepared consensus reports.  The TET chair and contracting officer conducted a best value analysis and recommended awards; the ultimate award decisions were made by a source selection authority.

On March 6, 2017, the SSA made award to 11 offerors, all of which had been recommended by the TET chair and contracting officer.  The March 6 source selection decision document stated that the best value decisions were based on the documents in the source selection file.

Nine unsuccessful offerors, including EDC Consulting, LLC, filed protests at the GAO.  During the course of the protest “a question was raised as to whether the documents supporting the agency’s source selection decisions, filed with the agency reports (AR), had been prepared or revised after the March 6 decisions were made.”

The GAO asked the DHS to respond.  On May 1, the DHS’s counsel admitted that the price evaluation report was “incorrect” and that “some of the information provided in the AR . . . was prepared or changed after award.”  These post-award changes involved “the insertion of a multi-page table, as well as the creation of several memoranda regarding the price realism evaluation and findings.”  Additionally, “[a]fter award, the agency revised the Technical Evaluation Report and [the] Best Value Tradeoff Analysis.”

The GAO, obviously, was deeply concerned.  After a series of conference calls, it informed the parties that it intended to conduct a hearing to address various matters, “including the agency’s preparation and submission of the altered documents.”  This, itself, is rather unusual, as most GAO bid protests are resolved without hearings.  (The GAO held hearings in 2.5% of cases in Fiscal Year 2016).

The DHS apparently had no desire to be cross-examined about its conduct.  On May 26, just a few days before the hearing was to occur, the DHS announced that it would terminate all of the awards and cancel the procurement.  In its notice of corrective action, the DHS stated that because documents had been created and revised after award, “DHS has determined that the evaluation process and documents do not meet DHS’ standards for award.”  DHS also said that there were other pieces of the solicitation that needed to be resolved to meet “DHS’ evolving mission needs.”

There must  be something in the water, because this is the second time in less than two months that an agency has been caught creating fake “contemporaneous” documents to defend against a bid protest.  As I wrote in late April, the Court of Federal Claims sharply criticized the U.S. Special Operations Command for creating backdated market research to support a set-aside decision.

Judge Thomas Wheeler’s comments in that case apply equally to DHS’s conduct here.  Judge Wheeler said:

The integrity of the administrative record, upon which nearly every bid protest is resolved, is foundational to a fair and equitable procurement process.  While the Government has accepted responsibility for its misconduct, the importance of preventing a corrupted record cannot be overstated.  The Court encourages USSOCOM to take all reasonable steps to ensure that its contracting office appreciates the necessity of conducting a well-documented, well-reasoned procurement and producing a meticulous and accurate record for review.  The Court will not tolerate agency deception in the creation of the administrative record.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again–in my experience, the vast majority of agency officials are honest, honorable people.  But the integrity of the competitive contracting process is harmed when agency officials don’t live up to those standards.  Indeed, the mere perception that the game might be rigged is extraordinarily harmful–what reason is there for a company to participate in the process if it appears that the agency won’t play fair?

The GAO’s decision doesn’t mention what sanctions, if any, the DHS employees responsible for the misconduct might face.  DHS has a chance to send a strong message by terminating, or otherwise severely punishing, those responsible.  We’ll see what happens.

For now–and I can hardly believe I’m saying this–contractors and their counsel who receive source selection documents as part of a protest might want to check when those documents were created.  Just in case.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

The curse is broken!  For the first time in 71 years, my Chicago Cubs will play a World Series game in Wrigley Field tonight.  While I wish I could be in Wrigley to cheer them on, the ticket prices are being called “record breaking,” and not in a good way.  So I’ll be watching with my family from the comfort of my couch right here in Kansas–which, if nothing else, will offer the advantage of a better dinner than the ballpark (I’ll take chicken smoked on the Big Green Egg over a ballpark hot dog any day).

But before I head home to watch the first pitch, it’s time for our weekly dose of government contracting news and notes.  In this week’s SmallGovCon Week In Review, a judge has blocked implementation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Rule, Guy Timberlake sounds the alarm about proposed changes to small business goaling, a group of contract employees have gone on strike in protest of alleged legal violations, and much more.

  • A federal court in Texas has halted enforcement of new rules requiring many U.S. government contractors to disclose labor law violations, including workplace safety violations, when bidding for contracts. [POLITICO]
  • The GSA has introduced new initiatives to better engage small and innovative companies that aren’t traditionally government contractors. [fedscoop]
  • Our friend Guy Timberlake takes a look at what would happen if, all of a sudden, agencies didn’t have to work so hard to meet or exceed their small business goals. [GovConChannel]=
  • The team at the Office of Management and Budget have been thinking creatively on how to deal with unsolicited proposals and generate the best ways to approach the federal IT procurement process. [fedscoop]
  • Fed up truck drivers and warehouse workers employed by federal contractors are striking for 48 hours to draw attention to alleged wage theft and other violations. [workdayMinnesota]
  • Washington Technology lays out four things you need to know about new the contractor requirements for classified networks. [Washington Technology]

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

The GAO sustained 22.56% of protests decided on the merits in Fiscal Year 2016–nearly double the 12% sustain rate reported in FY 2015.

According to the GAO’s FY 2016 Bid Protest Annual Report, the GAO sustained 139 of the 616 protests decided on the merits (that is, cases where GAO actually reached a “sustain” or “deny” decision).  The overall effectiveness rate for protesters–a combination of “sustain” decisions, plus the many cases in which agencies took corrective action in response to protests–was 46%, a slight increase over the prior fiscal year.

The GAO’s annual report shows that 2,789 protests were filed in FY 2016, up 6% over the prior fiscal year.  Of these protests, only 616 were ultimately decided on the merits.  The remaining protests were closed for other reasons, such as corrective action, dismissals for reasons such as untimeliness, and cases resolved after GAO-mediated alternative dispute resolution.

GAO sustained 139 of the 616 protests.  In contrast, in FY 2015, the GAO issued only 68 “sustain” decisions–or slightly less than half the total number of “sustains” issued in FY 2016.  However, the overall protest effectiveness rate of 46% was little different than in FY 2015, where protesters realized a 45% effectiveness rate.  Effectiveness rates have slowly ticked upwards over the last five fiscal years, from 42% in FY 2012 to 46% most recently.

The GAO’s trend away from oral hearings continued.  In FY 2016, the GAO held oral hearings in only 27 cases.  Back in FY 2012, the GAO held 56 oral hearings.  Last year, the GAO held 31. Most protests are decided based solely on written filings.

The bid protest process frequently comes under attack, with some “sky is falling” commentators making it sound like nearly every federal procurement is challenged by frivolous protesters–and urging drastic rollbacks of contractors’ protest rights to combat this supposed threat.  The GAO’s annual report is a refreshing return to actual facts.

As the report demonstrates, protests are filed on only a tiny fraction of federal procurements, and nearly half of protests result in relief for the protester.  While there will always be the occasional protest that shouldn’t have been filed, the GAO has ways of dealing with those who abuse the protest process.  The raw numbers make clear that protests remain an important way of ensuring that procurements are conducted fairly.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

In conducting a cost realism evaluation, an agency was entitled to use an offeror’s historic approved indirect rates and current incumbent direct labor rates to upwardly adjust the offeror’s evaluated cost, in a case where the offeror’s proposed rates were significantly lower.

The GAO recently held that an agency did not err by adjusting a protester’s rates to better align with the protester’s historic indirect rates and current direct rates, where the agency was unable to determine that the protester’s significantly lower proposed rates were realistic.

In AM Pierce & Associates Inc., B-413128 et al. (Aug. 22, 2016), GAO considered a protest by a disappointed offeror challenging the Navy’s evaluation under a solicitation seeking program management support services for the H-60 Helicopter Program Office. The solicitation was completely set-aside for EDWOSBs. The resulting contract was to be awarded on a cost-plus-fixed-fee basis, under a best-value evaluation.

The solicitation said that offerors’ proposed costs would be evaluated for realism, to determine whether the overall costs were realistic for the work to be performed, reflective of the offeror’s understanding of the requirements, and/or consistent with the technical proposal. To facilitate the evaluation, the RFP required offerors to substantiate their proposed direct and indirect labor rates through payroll verification, contingent offer letters, DCAA rate verification or approval letters, or other detailed justification methods. The cost realism analysis would then involve a calculation of each offeror’s evaluated costs, to reflect the estimated most probable costs. This determination would include an evaluation of the offeror’s cost information—including its substantiated labor rates.

Under the technical proposal, offerors were required to complete a “workforce qualifications spreadsheet” for each employee—including contingent or prospective hires—for the base year. The offerors were further required to demonstrate that this information exceeded the personnel labor category requirements outlined in the solicitation. Then, in the cost proposal, offerors were required to provide the proposed rates for employees based on labor categories.

AM Pierce & Associates, Inc. and Island Creek Associates, LLC were two of the six offerors. AM Pierce’s proposal scored higher under several technical subfactors, and its proposed cost was about $2.5 million less expensive than Island Creek’s. But after evaluating cost proposals, the Navy made significant upward revisions to AM Pierce’s proposed costs. Following these revisions, Island Creek’s evaluated cost was about $300,000 less than AM Pierce’s.

The upward adjustment to AM Pierce’s proposed cost resulted from two aspects of its cost proposal.

First, in its cost proposal, AM Pierce offered lower indirect rates than its historical rates, claiming the reduction was based, in part, on a change to its accounting system. Evaluating its proposal, the Navy instead considered AM Pierce’s historical rates, as approved by DCAA.

Second, AM Pierce’s direct rates were adjusted upwards for proposed personnel after the Navy found the proposed rates to be “drastically inconsistent with the rates verified by current and contingent employees.” To determine the most probable cost, the Navy used verified rates for proposed employees in each labor category for the base year and, for option years, used the median of all verified rates for each labor category in which hours would be reduced in option years.

After conducting a best value tradeoff, the Navy awarded the contract to Island Creek.

AM Pierce protested the award. AM Pierce argued that the Navy had erred by upwardly adjusting AM Pierce’s indirect and direct rates.

GAO explained that “[w]hen an agency evaluates a proposal for the award of a cost reimbursement contract, an offeror’s proposed estimated costs are not dispositive because, regardless of the costs proposed, the government is bound to pay the contractor its actual and allowable costs.” Therefore, “an agency must perform a cost realism analysis to determine whether the estimated proposed cost elements are realistic for the work to be performed, reflect a clear understanding of the requirements, and are consistent with the unique methods of performance and materials described in the offeror’s proposal.” An offeror’s proposed costs “should be adjusted, when appropriate, based on the results of the cost realism analysis.”

GAO first addressed the Navy’s evaluation of AM Pierce’s proposed indirect costs. Although AM Pierce argued that a change in its accounting practices justified the lower indirect rates, “DCAA did not approve AMP’s provisional billing rates for 2016, which reflected changes to AMP’s accounting practices, until April 11, 2016, after the agency had completed its cost evaluation.” GAO wrote that “it appears that the agency considered the most realistic and verifiable information available when calculating AMP’s most probable cost,” and denied this aspect of AM Pierce’s protest.

GAO then turned to the evaluation of AM Pierce’s direct labor rates. Noting that the Navy had based its evaluation on AM Piece’s actual current labor rates, GAO wrote that AM Pierce’s argument was little more than an assertion that “the agency should ignore the rates currently being paid to proposed employees in calculating the most probable cost in the base and option years.” Though it is true that current employees might leave and be replaced at lower rates, “the possibility of changes to personnel does not negate the fact that the actual rates currently being paid to personnel proposed by AMP are the most realistic rates available.” The GAO denied this aspect of AM Pierce’s protest, as well.

Cost realism evaluations can be complicated. But AM Pierce underscores two important points: first, that an agency can use historic verified indirect rates instead of unsubstantiated rates proposed by an offeror; second, an agency can upwardly adjust the direct labor rates proposed by an offeror for incumbent employees based on the actual costs for those employees.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

A former 8(a) protege was not automatically entitled to take advantage of the past performance it obtained as part of a mentor-protege joint venture, in a case where the former mentor would not be involved in the new contract.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO held that a procuring agency erred by crediting the protege with the joint venture’s past performance without considering the extent to which that past performance relied on the mentor–and the extent to which the mentor’s absence under the new solicitation might impact the relevance of the past performance as applied to the new work.

The case, Veterans Evaluation Servs. Inc., B-412940 et al. (July 13, 2016), involved a solicitation by the VA to acquire medical disability examination services. The VA issued the RFP seeking to award several large IDIQ contracts. Each contract carried a minimum value of $3.7 million and a top value of $6.8 billion. (That’s billion-with-a-b for those scoring at home.)

The RFP split the services area to seven districts throughout the United States and abroad. The VA intended to award two contracts per district 1 through 6, and required the contractors to propose to locate, subcontract with, and train a network of healthcare professionals to perform the examinations.

VetFed Resources, Inc. had been performing the incumbent contract as part of an 8(a) mentor-protege joint venture with QTC Medical Services, Inc.  The mentor-protege arrangement apparently had expired by the time that proposals were due under the RFP.  VetFed independently submitted proposals for districts 1, 2, and 5.  In districts 1 and 5, VetFed proposed to use QTC as its major subcontractor, making available QTC’s provider network and infrastructure. But for district 2, VetFed did not propose to use QTC as its subcontractor.

After evaluating competitive proposals, the VA awarded contracts to VetFed for districts 1, 2, and 5.  In its evaluation of all three districts, the VA rated VetFed’s past performance as good.

Three unsuccessful competitors filed GAO protests challenging the results of the VA’s evaluation.  All three protesters argued that in district 2, VetFed would not be able to take advantage of QTC’s provider network and infrastructure. The protesters argued that VetFed’s good past performance rating was a result of VetFed’s having access to the resources of its former mentor, and that without that access, VetFed did not deserve a good rating.

GAO wrote that “[a]n agency may attribute the experience or past performance of a parent or affiliated company to an offeror where the firm’s proposal demonstrates that the resources of the parent or affiliate with affect the performance of the offeror.” In this regard, “the relevant consideration is whether the resources of the parent or affiliated company–its workforce, management, facilities, or other resources–will be provided or relied upon for contract performance . . ..” For this reason, “it is inappropriate to consider an affiliate’s record where that record does not bear on the likelihood of successful performance by the offeror.”

In this case, GAO wrote that “VetFed’s relevant past performance example is a contract it performed in close cooperation with QTC; the firms performed using a mentor-protégé arrangement, and there is no dispute that QTC’s provider network and IT infrastructure played a material part in VetFed’s successful performance of the predecessor contract. . . . Since the record here does not show that the agency gave consideration to this question, we conclude that its assignment of a good rating to VetFed for its past performance in district 2 was unreasonable.” GAO sustained this part of the protest.

Given SBA’s strong interest in how mentor-protege joint ventures are treated, it is somewhat surprising that GAO didn’t seek SBA’s input on this aspect of its decision–especially since the decision is troubling from the perspective of 8(a) proteges like VetFed. While GAO’s decision is a logical outgrowth of GAO’s longstanding case law regarding the past performance of affiliates, the particular context is unique, and the SBA’s comments might have been instructive.

In sum, GAO essentially said that a protégé might not get full past performance credit for work it performed in a mentor-protégé arrangement unless the mentor sticks around (in this case as a subcontractor). This is bad news for the protégés of the world, who presumably enter into these relationships in large part for the purpose of gaining experience and knowledge so that they can perform larger contracts on their own in the future. Especially with the new universal mentor-protege program coming online on October 1, it will be important for everyone–mentors, proteges, and contracting officers alike–to fully understand exactly how past performance of mentor-protege joint ventures is to be treated.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

An agency did not act improperly by allowing for oral final proposal revisions, rather than permitting offerors to submit written FPRs following discussions.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO held that–at least in the context of a task order awarded under FAR 16.505–an agency could validly accept oral revisions to offerors’ proposals.

The GAO’s decision in SSI, B-413486, B-413486.2 (Nov. 3, 2016) involved an Air Force solicitation seeking a contractor to provide enterprise language, regional expertise, and cultural instruction to the 1st Special Forces Command and Special Operations Forces Language Office.  The solicitation was open to holders of the U.S. Special Operations Command Wide Mission Support Group B multiple-award IDIQ.  The Air Force intended to award two task orders to a single vendor.

The Air Force received initial proposals from 12 vendors, including Mid Atlantic Professionals, Inc. d/b/a SSI.  In its initial evaluation, the Air Force assigned SSI’s proposal “unacceptable” ratings under two non-price factors.

The Air Force elected to open discussions with offerors.  The Air Force sent SSI the results of its initial technical evaluation and invited SSI to meet with the Air Force to provide oral responses and discuss the government’s concerns.

After meeting with SSI, the Air Force reevaluated SSI’s proposal and assigned SSI “good” and “acceptable” ratings for the portions of the proposal that were initially rated “unacceptable.”  However, after evaluating the remaining proposals, the Air Force made award to Yorktown Systems Group, Inc., which received similar non-price scores but was lower-priced.

SSI filed a protest challenging the award to YSG.  SSI alleged, in part, that the Air Force had acted improperly by failing to allow offerors the opportunity to submit written FPRs, and to lower their prices as part of written FPRs.  SSI contended that the Air Force was not allowed to accept oral proposal revisions.

The GAO noted that this acquisition was conducted under FAR 16.505, not under FAR 15.3, which governs negotiated procurements.  The GAO wrote that, under FAR 16.505 and the provisions of SSI’s underlying IDIQ contract, an offeror must be given “a fair opportunity to compete.”  However, “[t]here is no requirement in the contract that the agency solicit and accept written FPRs after conducting discussions.”  Additionally, “there is no indication in the record that the agency conveyed or suggested through its course of dealings with offerors that it intended to solicit written FPRs after the close of discussions.”

The GAO denied SSI’s protest.

The notion of an oral proposal revision seems odd, and probably wouldn’t be allowed in a negotiated procurement conducted under FAR 15.3.  But as the SSI case demonstrates, when an agency is awarding a task order under FAR 16.505, the agency can, in fact, allow for oral FPRs.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

A group of companies has agreed to pay $5.8 million to resolve a False Claims Act case stemming from alleged affiliations among the companies.

According to a Department of Justice press release, the settlement resolves claims that En Pointe Gov Inc (now known as Modern Gov IT Inc.) falsely certified that it was a small business for purposes of federal set-aside contracts, despite alleged affiliations with four other companies–all of whom will also pay a portion of the settlement.

The government alleged that, between 2011 and 2014, En Pointe Gov Inc. falsely represented that it was a small business.  “In particular,” the press release states, “the government alleged that En Pointe Gov Inc.’s affiliation with the other defendants rendered it a non-small business, and, thus, ineligible for the small business set-aside contracts it obtained.”  The government also alleged that En Pointe under-reported sales made under its GSA Schedule contract, resulting in underpayment of the Industrial Funding Fee.

The issue came to light as the result of a lawsuit filed by an apparent competitor, Minburn Technology Group, and Minburn’s managing member.  Minburn filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act’s whistleblower provisions, which allow private individuals to sue on behalf of the government.  Miburn and its managing member stand to receive approximately $1.4 million as their share of the settlement.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

Debriefings play a vital role in the procurement process. When conducted fully and fairly, a debriefing provides an offeror with valuable insight into the strengths and shortcomings of its proposal, thus enabling the offeror to improve its offering under future solicitations. But when an agency provides only a perfunctory debriefing, the process can be virtually worthless–and may actually encourage an unsuccessful offeror to file a bid protest.

With this in mind, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently issued a memorandum that urges agencies to strengthen the debriefing process. In doing so, OFPP has encouraged agencies to adopt a debriefing guide that will help facilitate effective and efficient debriefings.

FAR 15.506, which governs the post-award debriefing process, provides only general guidance as to the information that must be included in a debriefing. Basically, agencies need only provide minimal information about the award decision, including the evaluation of a proposal’s significant weaknesses or deficiencies and a “summary of the rationale for award.” The FAR prohibits an agency from providing a point-by-point comparison of proposals, or any information that can be deemed as confidential, proprietary, or as a trade secret. Given these restrictions, and considering that agencies are often tasked with debriefing numerous offerors under a solicitation (including the awardee), debriefings can devolve into little more than a notation of the offeror’s score and the awardee’s price.

Written as part of its “myth-busting” series on issues under federal contracting, OFPP’s memorandum explains the importance of effective debriefings:

Debriefings offer multiple benefits. They help vendors better understand the weaknesses in their proposals so that they can make stronger offers on future procurements, which is especially important for small businesses as they seek to grow their positions in the marketplace. In addition to contributing to a potentially more competitive supplier base for future work, debriefings allow agencies to evaluate and improve their own processes.

Despite these benefits, agencies often skimp on the information provided to offerors in a debriefing by providing only the bare minimum required under the FAR. In doing so, an agency may assume that it is limiting its exposure to a post-award protest, by limiting the information (or ammunition) available to a potential protester. OFPP’s memorandum addresses this myth head-on:

[A]gencies that conduct quality debriefings have found a decreased tendency by their supplier base to pursue protests. Studies of the acquisition process have observed that protests may be filed to get information—information that could have been shared during a debriefing—about the agency’s award decision to reassure the contractor that the source selection was merit-based and conducted in an impartial manner.

Offerors—who spend a tremendous amount of time and money to prepare their proposals—are entitled to a debriefing that adequately explains the strengths and weaknesses of their effort and confirms that a fair selection occurred. But agencies are too often quick to limit the information provided in debriefings, in the misguided effort to limit potential protests. OFPP’s memorandum addresses this disconnect, by explaining that an effective debriefing actually tends to lower the risk of a protest.

In our experience, OFPP’s memorandum is spot-on. My colleagues and I frequently speak with clients who are very frustrated with the scant information provided in debriefings. Perception matters in government contracting, and cursory debriefings can appear disrespectful of the time and effort that an offeror puts into its proposal. Worse, bare-bones debriefings can give the impression that the agency has something to hide. In many cases in which we’ve been involved, the agency likely could have avoided a protest if it had provided a comprehensive debriefing. And on the flip side, we have seen many other cases in which a client was initially eager to protest, but changed its mind after a thorough debriefing.

As we recently noted, Congress has also required DoD to analyze and address the effect of the quality of a debriefing on the frequency of bid protests. Hopefully this requirement, together with OFPP’s memorandum, will encourage agencies to make the most of the debriefing process.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

An Alaska Native Corporation subsidiary was not affiliated with its parent company and two sister companies under the ostensible subcontractor affiliation rule, even though the company in question would rely on the parent and sister companies for managerial personnel, financial assistance and bonding.

A recent decision of the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals highlights the breadth of the exemption from affiliation enjoyed by ANC companies.

OHA’s decision in Size Appeal of Olgoonik Diversified Services, LLC, SBA No. SIZ-5825 (2017) involved a Department of State solicitation seeking a contractor to provide design-build construction services in Baghdad.  The solicitation was issued as a small business set-aside under NAICS code 236220 (Commercial and Institutional Building Construction), with a corresponding $36.5 million size standard.

After evaluating competitive proposals, the agency announced that Olgoonik Diversified Services, LLC was the apparent successful offeror.  An unsuccessful competitor subsequently filed a size protest.  The protester alleged, in part, that Olgoonik was affiliated with other entities under the ostensible subcontractor rule.

The SBA Area Office determined that Olgoonik was established in 2011 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Olgoonik Development, LLC (“OD”), an ANC holding company.  OD, in turn, was a wholly-owned subsidiary of an ANC.  OD had 11 other subsidiaries besides Olgoonik, referred to as Olgoonik’s “sister companies.”  These sister companies included O.E.S., Inc. (“OES”) and Olgoonik Specialty Contractors, LLC (“OSC”).

The SBA Area Office found that Olgoonik had relied on OES and OSC for the relevant past performance identified in its proposal.  OD would provide bonding and other financial assistance to allow Olgoonik to perform the contract.  All six key employees listed in the proposal (including the Program General Manager responsible for overall project management) were OSC employees.

Although Olgoonik had not named OES or OSC as subcontractors in its proposal, the SBA Area Office found that Olgoonik was unusually reliant on its sister companies for contract performance.  The SBA Area Office issued a decision finding Olgoonik affiliated with OES and OSC under the ostensible subcontractor rule (the SBA also found an affiliation for another reason, which is outside the scope of this post).

Olgoonik filed a size appeal with OHA.  Olgoonik argued that the ostensible subcontractor rule did not apply because OSC and OES were not proposed as subcontractors for the project.  Additionally, Olgoonik argued that a regulatory exemption from affiliation precluded a finding of affiliation.  That exemption, which is found in 13 C.F.R. 121.103(b)(2)(ii), provides, in part, that businesses owned and controlled by Indian Tribes, ANCs, Native Hawaiian Organizations, and Community Development Corporations are not considered affiliated with other businesses owned by these entities “because of their common ownership or common management.”  However, “[a]ffiliation may be found for other reasons.”

OHA first addressed the low-hanging fruit: the fact that OD, OES and OSC were not proposed to be subcontractors on the State Department project.  OHA wrote that it has “consistently held that in order for the ostensible subcontractor rule to apply, the alleged affiliate must actually be a subcontractor of the challenged concern.”  In this case, “there is no record of subcontracting in [Olgoonik’s] proposal,” meaning that OD, OES and OSC could not be Olgoonik’s ostensible subcontractors.

But OHA didn’t stop there: it also found that the SBA Area Office had erred by failing to apply the “common ownership” and “common management” exceptions from affiliation.  OHA wrote that “an ANC transfers personnel among its sister companies as part of the common management of its concerns, and an ANC’s exercise of common management is a clear exception to a finding of affiliation.”  Additionally, OHA explained, “relying on its parent company for financial assistance in justifying a finding of affiliation based on a joint venture or ostensible subcontractor is equally illogical.”  ANCs are “excepted from affiliation based on common ownership, thus it would be reasonable for a subsidiary to rely on its parent company’s financial resources, and for bonding . . ..”

OHA granted Olgoonik’s size appeal.

The SBA’s regulations do not expressly exempt ANCs, Tribes, NHOs and CDCs from ostensible subcontractor affiliation.  But as the Olgoonik Diversified Services size appeal demonstrates, the types of relationships that might ordinarily be deemed indicative of ostensible subcontractor affiliation are often part and parcel of common ownership and management.  Olgoonik Diversified Services confirms that OHA will broadly apply the regulatory exception to cover things such as transferred personnel, financial assistance, and bonding assistance.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

I am back in Lawrence after a great Midwestern driving trip last week, where I spoke at two fantastic government contracting events.

On Tuesday, I was in Des Moines for the Iowa Vendor Conference.  My presentation focused on debunking common myths surrounding the SBA’s size and socioeconomic programs (think that VetBiz verification applies to all agencies?  Think again!)  Many thanks to the Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service for organizing this great event and inviting me to speak.  Special thanks to Pam Russenberger and Jodi Essex for all their work planning and coordinating the event, and a big “thank you” to the featured keynoter–the one and only Guy Timberlake–for everything he did to make the conference such a great success.

After I spoke at the Iowa Vendor Conference, I hit the road for Norman, Oklahoma for the annual Indian Country Business Summit.  My talk at the ICBS touched on several recent, major changes to the small business contracting regulations, including the new rules for the limitations on subcontracting and universal mentor-protege program.  The ICBS has always been a great event, but it seems to get bigger and better each year.  A big “thank you” to Victoria Armstrong for her amazing work planning the event, as well as the Oklahoma Bid Assistance Network and Tribal Government Institute for hosting.

I’ll be sticking around home for a few weeks, but more travel is on the agenda–I’m excited to be speaking at the Redstone Edge conference in Huntsville, Alabama on September 22.  Hope to see you there!

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

Joint venture partner or subcontractor?  An offeror’s teaming agreement for the CIO-SP3 GWAC wasn’t clear about which tasks would be performed by joint venture partners and which would be performed by subcontractors–and the agency was within its discretion to eliminate the offeror as a result.

A recent GAO bid protest decision demonstrates that when a solicitation calls for information about teaming relationships, it is important to clearly establish which type of teaming relationship the offeror intends to establish, and draft the teaming agreement and proposal accordingly.

Here at SmallGovCon, my colleagues and I discuss teaming agreements and joint ventures frequently.  As important as teaming is for many contractors, one might think that the FAR would be overflowing with information about joint ventures and prime/subcontractor teams.  Not so.  Most of the legal guidance related to joint ventures and teams is found in the SBA’s regulations.  The FAR itself is much less detailed.  FAR 9.601 provides this definition of a “Contractor Team Arrangement”:

“Contractor team arrangement,” as used in this subpart, means an arrangement in which—

(1) Two or more companies form a partnership or joint venture to act as a potential prime contractor; or

(2) A potential prime contractor agrees with one or more other companies to have them act as its subcontractors under a specified Government contract or acquisition program.

So, under the FAR, a Contractor Team Arrangement, or CTA, may take two forms: a joint venture (or other partnership) under FAR 9.601(1), or a prime/subcontractor teaming arrangement under FAR 9.601(2).  The details of how to form each arrangement are left largely to guidance established by the SBA.

Let’s get back to the GAO protest at hand.  The protest, NextGen Consulting, Inc., B-413104.4 (Nov. 16, 2016) involved the “ramp on” solicitation for the NIH’s major CIO-SP3 small business GWAC IDIQ.  The solicitation included detailed instructions regarding CTAs.  Specifically, the solicitation provided that if an offeror wanted its teammates to be considered as part of the evaluation process, the offeror’s team needed to be in the form prescribed by FAR 9.601(1), that is, a joint venture or partnership.  In contrast, the solicitation provided that, for prime/subcontractor teams under FAR 9.601(2), only the prime offeror would be evaluated.

NextGen Consulting, Inc. submitted a proposal as a CTA.  NextGen identified three teammates: WhiteSpace Enterprise Corporation, Twin Imaging Technology Inc., and the University of Arizona.  The teaming agreement specified that NextGen and WhiteSpace were teaming under FAR 9.601(1), whereas Twin Imaging and the University were teaming with the parties under FAR 9.601(2).

The teaming agreement identified “primary delivery areas” for each teammate.  With respect to the 10 task areas required under the solicitation, NextGen was to handle overall contract management and related responsibilities for task areas 2 and 4-10, WhiteSpace was assigned task area 1, Twin Imaging was assigned task area 3, and the University was assigned task areas 1, 4, 5, and 10.  In its proposal, NextGen referred to the capabilities of “Team NextGen” for all 10 task areas.

The NIH found that because the teaming agreement distributed the task areas without regard for whether the teaming relationship fell under FAR 9.601(1) or FAR 9.601(2), it was impossible for the agency to distinguish between the two types of teammates.  The NIH concluded that the resulting confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the parties made it impossible for the NIH to evaluate the proposal in accordance with the solicitation’s requirements–which, of course, called for the evaluation only of FAR 9.601(1) teammates.  The NIH eliminated NextGen from the competition.

NextGen filed a bid protest with the GAO, challenging its exclusion.  NextGen argued that the NIH unreasonably excluded its proposal based upon a misintepretation of the teaming agreement.  NextGen contended that, taken as a whole, the teaming agreement was clear.  NextGen pointed out that the teaming agreement specifically identified itself and WhiteSpace as FAR 9.601(1) teammates, and specifically identified Twin Imaging and the University as FAR 9.601(2) teammates.

The GAO disagreed.  It noted that “the solicitation required that a CTA offeror submit a CTA document to clearly designate a team lead and identify specific duties and responsibilities.”  Contrary to NextGen’s contentions, “[t]he record shows that as a whole, NextGen’s CTA provided conflicting information as to who the team lead was, and failed to clearly identify the specific duties and responsibilities of the team members.”  GAO pointed out that NextGen’s proposal used the term “Team NextGen,” which “did not provide any indication as to what the specific duties and responsibilities of the team members were.”

Joint venture agreements and prime/subcontractor teams are very different arrangements.  As the NextGen Consulting protest demonstrates, it is important for an offeror to understand what type of teaming arrangements it is proposing, and draft its teaming documents and proposal accordingly.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

Ahh, fall. A time for football, hay rides, and returning to campus. Being in a college town, we are always reminded that students are back on campus due to the increased traffic, the homecoming parade, and the increased buzz (no pun intended) around the town. The onset of fall sometimes dredges up unwanted memories about turning in term papers and meeting all the inane requirements insisted upon by the professor.

A recent GAO opinion also brought me back to my college days. Specifically, what happens when the government (kind of like a college professor) sets a requirement for a certain type of file format for a solicitation, but the offeror submits a proposal in a different file format?  A recent GAO opinion answers that question in the contractor’s favor–although GAO’s ruling isn’t a blanket permission slip for contractors to ignore file format requirements.

In McCann-Erickson USA, Inc., B-414787 (Comp. Gen. Sept. 18, 2017), McCann-Erickson USA, Inc. had submitted a proposal to provide advertising services to the Army on an IDIQ basis for a potential 10-year contract worth up to $4 billion. The Army would evaluate proposals “on a best-value basis, considering cost/price, along with several non-cost/price evaluation criteria.”

The solicitation set up a two-phase evaluation process. Phase one would be based on written proposals while phase two would involve an oral presentation for all proposals that were deemed acceptable. Phase one involved “a substantive evaluation of written proposals considering cost/price and the non-cost/price evaluation factors with a focus on the adequacy of the offerors’ response–and the feasibility of their approach–to fulfilling the requirements of the RFP.” But instead of following the two-phase review process, the Army conducted what it termed a “compliance review” of proposals, consisting of reviewing and eliminating proposals based on “informational deficiencies” in what GAO described as a “superficial, perfunctory review of the ME proposal to identify instances where ME allegedly did not fully comply with the instructions for proposal preparation.”

What were these “information deficiencies” identified by GAO?  The wrong file format was one of them. The Army rejected ME’s proposal, in part, “for submitting its cost/price proposal as a portable document file (pdf) rather than as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.” Per the GAO, “[t]he record shows that the agency did not substantively evaluate the ME cost/price proposal, choosing not to calculate the firm’s total evaluated cost/price; performing no meaningful cost realism evaluation; and not evaluating the proposal for balance, fairness or reasonableness, as specifically contemplated by the solicitation’s cost/price evaluation factor. The agency also did not afford ME an opportunity to submit its cost proposal as a Microsoft Excel file.”

GAO rejected the Army’s interpretation of its submission requirements because

the solicitation’s evaluation criteria did not place offerors on notice that the agency simply would reject proposals without first performing a substantive evaluation. In addition, the record does not establish why the Army is unable to evaluate ME’s cost/price proposal using the pdf version of the proposal that it submitted, as opposed to a Microsoft Excel version of the cost/price proposal. Although a Microsoft Excel version of the proposal would include the underlying formulae used to arrive at the cost/price proposed by ME, the agency has not explained how the lack of such information would necessarily lead to its inability to evaluate the MS cost/price proposal.

In addition, GAO held that allowing ME to submit an Excel version of its cost/price proposal would be prudent, as long as no changes were made in the pricing, because this would amount to a mere clarification of the proposal. In the end, GAO sustained the protest and advised the Army to reevaluate ME’s proposal and awarded costs to ME.

It’s important to note that the GAO’s decision was based on the specific circumstances of the case. GAO did not hold that it is always okay for an offeror to submit its proposal in the wrong electronic file format. In fact, in a case decided a few years back, the GAO reached the opposite conclusion–holding that an offeror was properly excluded from award when it submitted its proposal in PDF instead of Excel.  The difference?  In the prior case, the agency argued that it needed to manipulate offerors’ cost data to complete the price evaluation, and the GAO agreed that doing so would be “unduly burdensome” without an Excel file.

Perhaps a college student may come across this blog after turning in a paper in the wrong format and be able to argue that, if it’s good enough for the GAO, it should be good enough for you, professor. Regardless, this decision is noteworthy because it points to limits on an agency’s discretion in rejecting a proposal based on the file format of the submission.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

NAICS code appeals, while little known, can be an extraordinarily powerful tool when it comes to affecting the competitive landscape of government acquisitions.

Case in point: in a recent NAICS code appeal decision issued by the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, the appellant prevailed–and obtained an order requiring the contracting officer to change the solicitation’s size standard from 500 employees to $15 million.

OHA’s decision in NAICS Appeal of Hendall Inc., SBA No. NAICS-5762 (2016) involved an HHS solicitation for support for its public engineering platform.  HHS issued the solicitation as a small business set-aside under NAICS code 511199 (All Other Publishers), with a corresponding 500 employee size standard.

Here’s where many small businesses would throw in the towel: “500 employees?  I can’t compete with that.  I’m moving on to the next solicitation.”

But Hendall Inc. understood that a prospective small business offeror has the right to file a NAICS code appeal directly with OHA.  So Hendall filed a NAICS code appeal, arguing that the HHS had assigned an incorrect NAICS code.  Hendall made the case that the appropriate NAICS code was 561422 (Telemarketing Bureaus and Other Contact Centers), with a corresponding $15 million size standard.

The incumbent contractor–which presumably was small under the 500-employee size standard, but not under the $15 million size standard–intervened in the case.  The incumbent argued that HHS’s original NAICS code designation was correct.

OHA evaluates NAICS code appeals primarily by comparing the solicitation’s statement of work to the NAICS code definitions in the Census Bureau’s NAICS Manual.  In this case, OHA noted that the NAICS Manual defines NAICS code 511199 as establishments “generally known as publishers,” who “may publish works in print or electronic form.”  NAICS code 561422, in contrast, comprises “establishments engaged in operating call centers that initiate or receive communications for others via telephone, facsimile, email, or other communication modes . . ..”

After examining the statement of work, OHA wrote that “the Contractor will not be writing, editing, or in any other way producing publications for [HHS].”  Because “the Contractor will not be engaged in activities which constitute publishing . . . the CO’s designation of a publishing NAICS code for this procurement is clear error.”

Having found the original NAICS code to be erroneous, OHA then turned to the question of what NAICS code was appropriate.  This second part of the analysis is as important as the first; OHA is under no obligation to accept the appellant’s proffered NAICS code even when OHA agrees that the original NAICS code was incorrect.  In many cases, OHA has assigned a third code–one that neither the appellant nor the agency wanted.

In this case, however, OHA wrote that “the operating of the Contact Center appears to be the major part of this procurement.”  The Contact Center, in turn, “responds to inquiries by telephone, email, fax and postal mail.”  Thus, while Hendall’s suggested NAICS code might not be the “perfect fit,” OHA concluded that NAICS code 561422 “best describes the principal purpose of the instant acquisition . . ..”

OHA granted Hendall’s NAICS code appeal.  OHA issued an order requiring HHS to “amend the solicitation to change the NAICS code designation from 511199 to 561422.”  And just like that, the solicitation’s size standard changed from 500 employees to $15 million.

The Hendall NAICS code appeal, on its surface, is a fact-specific case about a particular HHS solicitation.  But beyond that, the Hendall case is an example of the potential power of a NAICS code appeal.  By successfully appealing the solicitation’s NAICS code, Hendall dramatically affected the competitive pool for the solicitation–including, potentially, excluding the incumbent as an eligible offeror.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

Last year, during consideration of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the Senate proposed to “reform” the GAO bid protest process by forcing some unsuccessful protesters to pay the government’s costs, and (more controversially) by denying incumbent protesters profits on bridge contracts and extensions.

Congress ultimately chose not to implement these measures.  Instead, Congress called for an independent report on the effect of bid protests at DoD–a wise move, considering that major reforms to the protest process shouldn’t be undertaken without first seeing whether hard data shows that protests are harming the procurement process.

But now, six months before that report is due, the Senate has re-introduced its flawed bid protest proposals as part of the 2018 NDAA.

Earlier this month, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued its report on the 2018 NDAA.  The SASC report recommends that the 2018 NDAA include two major changes concerning GAO bid protests.

First, the bill states that when a “party with revenues in excess of $100.0 million during the previous year” files a GAO bid protest, that party will be required “to pay the Department of Defense costs incurred for processing [the] protest . . . where all elements of such protest are denied in an opinion” by the GAO.

Second, the bill would “require contractors who file a protest on a contract on which they are the incumbent to have all payments above incurred costs withheld on any bridge contracts or temporary contract extensions awarded to the contractor as a result of a delay in award resulting from the filing of such protest.”  The bill would, however, allow the protester to recover its profits under two circumstances: if the solicitation in question is cancelled, or if the GAO “issues an opinion that upholds any of the protest grounds filed under the protest.”

There have been some minor tweaks, but these changes are nearly identical to the provisions that the Senate proposed during consideration of the 2017 NDAA.  And in my opinion, the Senate has it wrong–again.

Presumably, the point of these “reforms” is to discourage losing offerors from filing bid protests, and in particular, to discourage frivolous bid protests by losing incumbents.  But are bid protests rampant?  Are frivolous bid protests rampant?  And are major DoD acquisitions being unduly delayed by protests?

These are the sorts of important questions that the independent report is likely to address.  Although the independent report isn’t due for a few more months, existing data casts doubt on the underlying presumption that protests are frequent, frivolous and causing undue delays.

On the frequency question, Dan Gordon–the former head of the OFPP–did the math, and concluded that, for the years he analyzed, “etween approximately 99.3 percent and 99.5 percent of procurements were not protested.”  This fits with the raw data: in Fiscal Year 2016, only 2,789 bid protests were filed with GAO.

On the frivolity side, even though protesters have the burden of proof, the success rate of GAO protests in FY 2016 was 46%.  This is not an anomaly: year after year, GAO protesters succeed more than 4 out of 10 times.  That’s not to say, of course, that there are no frivolous protests whatsoever, but when almost half of protests succeed, it’s hard to believe that frivolity is a rampant problem.

And what about delays?  Yes, when a GAO bid protest is filed within a certain time frame, it will initiate an automatic suspension of award or performance, as the case may be.  But a procuring agency can override the stay if there is an urgent and compelling need to award the contract.

Even when the agency doesn’t override, the GAO issues its decisions within 100 days after a protest is filed.  To GAO, the 100-day deadline is no mere guidepost–the GAO meets this deadline every single time (except in a few cases during the government shutdown of 2013). The agency can also request that the GAO resolve the protest even faster, using a 65-day express option or another accelerated schedule. The GAO bid protest process is designed to be relatively quick and efficient, and the GAO operates with that goal in mind.

But let’s put the statistics aside and assume for a moment that frequent frivolous protests are causing massive delays to DoD procurements.  I don’t think the Senate’s proposal solves this hypothetical problem.

The portion of the legislation dealing with protest costs may save the government a few bucks, but it’s very unlikely to make a dent in the number of protests.  The way I see it, companies generating $100 million or more in annual revenues already invest thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees and internal costs when they file protests.  These larger companies are very unlikely to be dissuaded by the potential of an additional “internal costs” charge if the protest is unsuccessful.

The second item–the one involving bridge contracts and extensions–is much more troubling.  Some (but not all) of my concerns:

  • Many GAO bid protests are resolved in the protester’s favor in ways other than a formal GAO “sustain” decision.  Most frequently, this involves voluntary agency corrective action–something that happened nearly 24% of the time in FY 2016.  As I read the Senate’s current version of the 2018 NDAA, the incumbent protester would still be required to forfeit all profits associated with any bridge contract or extension when the agency takes corrective action.  A corrective action essentially is a win for the protester–so why should the protester be penalized?
Sometimes, large procurements draw multiple protests.  If a losing incumbent is one of, say, five protesters, will the incumbent still be required to perform at cost?  The bill isn’t clear, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to penalize the incumbent in this situation. Many contracts are fixed-price; indeed, Congress recently affirmed its strong preference for DoD contracts to be awarded on a fixed-price basis.  The Senate 2018 NDAA seems to require that any bridge contract or extension to the incumbent be awarded on a cost-reimbursement basis instead.  Not only does this run against policy, but it’s likely to cause major headaches for contracting officials, who will be forced to fundamentally convert the contract type at the very moment the agency needs a quick and easy extension. Speaking of the apparent requirement that the bridge or extension be a cost reimbursement contract, what if the contractor’s accounting system isn’t adequate for cost reimbursement contracts?  Does everyone have to wait around for a DCAA audit?  Good luck with that. What if the underlying contract is for commercial items?  FAR 16.301-3(b) provides that “[t]he use of cost-reimbursement contracts is prohibited for the acquisition of commercial items . . ..” The GAO isn’t the only place a protest can be filed.  If an incumbent is concerned about potentially coughing up its profits on a bridge contract or extension, it can protest at the Court of Federal Claims.  There are no automatic stays at the Court, but a protester can seek a temporary injunction, and agencies sometimes voluntarily stay a procurement pending a Court protest.  Court protests don’t appear to be affected by the legislation.  So will the Senate bill just encourage forum shopping? Nothing requires an incumbent to sign a bridge contract.  Some incumbent protesters may simply say, “thanks, but no thanks,” to the possibility of performing work at cost.  If this happens, the agency may be in a bind, needing important work to continue immediately but without the ability to bridge the incumbent to meet that need.

Beyond all that, I’m skeptical that the second item will do much to reduce bid protests.  Sure, an incumbent takes the risk that it won’t profit from the bridge contract or extension if it loses the protest, but it won’t perform that work at a loss.  On the other hand, if the incumbent wins the protest, it may get its contract back-and might even be awarded its attorneys’ fees and costs.  Under these circumstances, it seems that the risk/reward analysis often will still favor a protest.

The Senate bill is a deeply flawed attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist.  Hopefully this premature and ill-conceived language will be removed in subsequent versions of the 2018 NDAA.  My colleagues and I will keep you posted.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

An agency acted improperly by excluding an offeror from the competitive range simply because the offeror received a “neutral” past performance score.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO wrote that the FAR precludes evaluating an offeror unfavorably because of a “neutral” or “unknown” past performance rating–and that the prohibition on unfavorable treatment prevents an agency from excluding an offeror from the competitive range on the basis of a neutral rating.

The GAO’s decision in Xtreme Concepts Inc., B-413711 (Dec. 19, 2016) involved an Army Corps of Engineers solicitation for the installation of transformers at Millers Ferry Powerhouse in Alabama.  The solicitation, which was issued as a small business set-aside, contemplated a best value tradeoff, considering both price and non-price factors.

Past performance was one of the non-price factors the Corps was to consider. The solicitation specified that only the past performance of the prime contractor would be considered.  (The GAO’s decision does not explain why the Corps chose to deviate from FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iii), which provides that the past performance of a major subcontractor “should” be evaluated).

Xtreme Concepts Inc. submitted a proposal. In its proposal, Xtreme submitted five past performance projects–all of which had been performed by Xtreme’s proposed subcontractor.

In its evaluation, the Corps concluded that, consistent with the solicitation’s instructions, it could not evaluate the subcontractor’s past performance.  The Corps assigned Xtreme a “neutral” past performance rating.  Xtreme’s proposal was the lowest-priced, and Xtreme’s non-price scores (other than past performance) were similar to those of the other offerors.

The Corps then established a competitive range.  The Corps excluded Xtreme from the competitive range, reasoning that Xtreme’s proposal was not among the most highly-rated due to its neutral past performance rating.  The offerors included in the competitive range were all rated “satisfactory confidence” or “substantial confidence” for past performance.

Xtreme filed a GAO bid protest challenging its exclusion. Xtreme argued that it was improper for the agency to exclude its proposal based solely on a neutral past performance rating, especially in light of Xtreme’s low price.

The GAO wrote that “the FAR requires that an offeror without a record of relevant past performance, or for whom information on past performance is not available, may not be evaluated favorably or unfavorably on past performance.”  In this regard, “an agency’s exclusion of an offeror from the competitive range based solely on a neutral or ‘unknown’ past performance rating constitutes ‘unfavorable treatment’ and is improper.”

In this case, the GAO held, “the agency was not permitted by either the terms of the solicitation or FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iv) to evaluate offerors favorably or unfavorably when they lack a record of relevant past performance . . ..”  The GAO sustained Xtreme’s protest.

The FAR protects contractors from being evaluated unfavorably based on a lack of relevant past performance.  As the Xtreme Concepts bid protest demonstrates, the FAR’s prohibition on unfavorable treatment extends to an agency’s competitive range determination.

View the full article

Koprince Law LLC

So-called “common investments” affiliation under the SBA’s affiliation rules arises most frequently when individuals own common interests in at least two operating companies.  But common investments affiliation can also be based on common interests in real estate.

In a recent decision, the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals held that the SBA had performed an inadequate size determination because the SBA Area Office asked the protested company about common investments in companies–but didn’t directly ask about common investments in real estate.

OHA’s decision in Size Appeal of Costar Services, Inc., SBA No. SIZ-5745 (2016) involved a NAVFAC solicitation for base operations support services.  The solicitation was issued as a small business set-aside under NAICS code 561210 (Facilities Support Services).

After evaluating competitive proposals, NAVFAC announced that Mark Dunning Industries, Inc. was the apparent awardee.  Costar Services Inc., an unsuccessful competitor, then filed a SBA size protest, alleging that MDI was affiliated with various other entities.

Among its allegations, Costar alleged that MDI’s owner, Mark Dunning, shared an identity of interest with Gregory Scott White under the common investments affiliation rule.  MDI contended, in part, that Mr. Dunning and Mr. White jointly owned interests in various real estate properties in Alabama.  Costar attached evidence supporting its contentions.  Costar argued that, because of the identity of interest, MDI was affiliated with companies controlled by Mr. White.

In the course of its size investigation, the SBA Area Office asked MDI whether “Mr. Dunning has any ownership interest or serve as a director or officer in any company with Mr. Scott White?”  MDI responded by stating that the only “business association” between the two men was joint ownership of White & Dunning, LLP, “which is an entity formed for the sole purpose of collecting rent for a single piece of property, a hunting cabin.”

The SBA Area Office determined that Mr. Dunning and Mr. White did not share an identity of interest under the common investments rule, and issued a size determination finding MDI to be an eligible small business for purposes of the NAVFAC procurement.

Costar filed a size appeal with OHA.  Among its contentions, Costar argued that the SBA Area Office had performed an incomplete investigation of the potential for common investments affiliation between Mr. Dunning and Mr. White.

OHA agreed.  It wrote that “[t]he Area Office did not directly inquire into whether Messrs. Dunning and White have common investments in entities that are not companies, nor ask MDI specifically to address” the Alabama properties identified by Costar.  OHA stated that the SBA Area Office had improperly accepted MDI’s responses “without further inquiry,” even though MDI’s representation that Mr. Dunning and Mr. White had no business relationship except their joint ownership of White & Dunning LLP “appear inconsistent with the evidence submitted by” Costar.  OHA granted Costar’s size appeal and remanded the matter to the SBA Area Office for a more thorough investigation of the potential identity of interest between Mr. Dunning and Mr. White.

Costar Services size appeal demonstrates, common investments affiliation need not be based on shared interests in operating companies.  Instead, as OHA suggested, such affiliation can also be based on shared investments in real estate.


View the full article


Koprince Law LLC

An agency’s attempt to order under a Federal Supply Schedule blanket purchase agreement was improper because the order exceeded the scope of the underlying BPA.

In a recent bid protest decision, GAO held that the agency had erred by attempting to issue a sole-source delivery order for cloud-based email service when the underlying BPA did not envision cloud services.

The bid protest, Tempus Nova, Inc., B-412821, 2016 CPD ¶ 161 (Comp. Gen. June 14, 2016), pitted a Microsoft-authorized dealer against a Google-authorized dealer regarding the IRS’s email service.

In 2013, the IRS issued a BPA to Softchoice Corporation under Softchoice’s FSS contract for maintenance and software updates to the IRS’s existing inventory of Microsoft products and services. The BPA gave the IRS perpetual licenses for some specific listed Microsoft products and included “the right to install on, use, or access . . . the latest version of each product[.]” GAO described the BPA as a vehicle for the IRS to “keep its existing portfolio of software licenses up-to-date with the latest versions of Microsoft products.”

In the summer of 2014, the IRS issued a delivery order against the BPA to acquire an “Office Pro Plus” license, which GAO found included an Office 365 Cloud-based email service. Tempus Nova, Inc., an authorized seller of Google products and services, learned about the delivery order through an email exchange with the IRS and filed a GAO bid protest, complaining that the order was an improper sole-source acquisition of e-mail-as-a-service (EaaS). EaaS is a cloud-based subscription service or product that does not involve installing software. Tempus Nova therefore argued that it was outside of the scope of the BPA.

GAO noted that “FSS delivery orders that are outside the scope of the underlying BPA” are improper because they have not been appropriately competed. In determining whether a delivery order is outside the scope of an underlying contract or BPA, the GAO “considers whether there is a material difference between the delivery order and the underlying BPA.” GAO further explained:

Evidence of a material difference is found by reviewing the BPA as awarded, and the terms of the delivery order issued, and considering whether the original solicitation adequately advised offerors of the potential for the type of work contemplated by the delivery order. The overall inquiry is whether the delivery order is of such a nature that potential offerors reasonably would have anticipated competing for the goods or services being acquired through issuance of the delivery order.

In this case, the IRS argued that Office 365 is merely the “latest and greatest” version of Office Pro Plus (which was specifically identified in the BPA).  GAO disagreed. It wrote that Office Pro Plus “is, in fact, an Office 365 cloud-based product, which is distinct from the ‘Office Professional Plus’ licenses owned by the agency.” Therefore, GAO concluded, “[t]he record demonstrates that under the delivery order, the agency acquired ‘Office Pro Plus’ subscriptions–a cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 product–even though the portfolio of software assets identified in the BPA did not include any cloud-based products.”

GAO found that “the delivery order at issue in the protest amounts to an improper, out-of-scope, sole source award.” GAO sustained the protest.

Agencies have rather broad flexibility to use vehicles like BPAs to obtain goods and services. But as the Tempus Nova case demonstrates, that flexibility is not unlimited: an order that exceeds the scope of an underlying BPA is improper.

View the full article

Sign in to follow this