The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently published four protest decisions that were all denied due to timeliness issues. This string of cases serves as a reminder that no matter how strong a protest’s basis may be, if it is not timely filed with GAO; then the protest will most likely be dismissed. GAO’s regulations set strict deadlines for filing protests at GAO. These rules reflect GAO’s dual requirements of

(1) giving parties a fair opportunity to present their cases

(2) resolving protests expeditiously without unduly disrupting or delaying the procurement process. GAO strictly enforces these requirements and will quickly dismiss a noncompliant protest, so contractors must be aware of these protest timeliness requirements.

Continue Reading Learning from Bid Protests: Don’t Lose Your Protest Before You Begin

On January 30, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued its decision denying Concurrent Technologies Corp.’s (CTC) protest of the U.S. Navy’s award of a support contract for the Navy Manufacturing Technology Metalworking Center of Excellence program to Advanced Technology International (ATI). CTC alleged that ATI had an organizational conflict of interest (OCI) which stemmed from ATI’s role as a contractor providing procurement support services for the Department of Defense. CTC argued that as part of ATI’s procurement support work, it had access to CTC’s proprietary information resulting in ATI having an unfair competitive advantage in the procurement.

GAO denied CTC’s protest, finding that the Navy’s actions were reasonable and the award to ATI was proper. However, it is the lengths taken by the Navy, and upheld by GAO, which makes this protest interesting and potentially dangerous to contractors.

Continue Reading GAO Upholds Waiver(s) of OCI Allegations

I authored an article for Bloomberg BNA outlining the details of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) new Limitation on Subcontracting rule. This new rule limits the definition of a “similarly situated entity” to first-tier subcontractors. As I point out in the article, “[w]ith the option to team with other similarly situated entities, working essentially as one for the purposes of the Limitation on Subcontracting rule, small businesses now are in a much better position to meet the increasingly complex requirements of government solicitations.”

The full article, “Limitation on Subcontracting” was published by Bloomberg BNA on October 13, 2016 , and is available in the PDF below.

Download Document – BNA Federal Contract Report (October 13, 2016)

On July 27, 2016, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims held that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was unreasonable in cancelling its solicitation for on-site operational support for the HHS Unified Financial Managements System (UFMS).  The decision, Starry Associates, Inc. v. United States, is unusual, given that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Court of Federal Claims are typically reluctant to oppose an agency’s decision to cancel a solicitation.  The decision serves as a useful reminder that such discretion is not unfettered and will be overturned where it is arbitrary and capricious.

Continue Reading A “Starry” Saga: Protester Prevails After Four Protests and an Overturned Solicitation Cancellation

On Friday, July 22, 2016, the Small Business Administration (SBA) released a Final Rule (Final Rule) establishing a government-wide mentor-protégé program for all small business concerns, designed to increase opportunities in the federal market place and improve development for small businesses. This expansion implements the authority Congress gave SBA in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to create mentor-protégé programs for Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB), HUBZone small businesses, women-owned small businesses (WOSB), and small businesses.

    The new program, which enables these categories of small businesses to benefit from the SBA-approved mentor-protégé arrangements previously only available to certified 8(a) small disadvantaged businesses, goes into effect on August 24, 2016, and will be implemented with the help of a newly formed unit within the SBA Office of Business Development devoted solely to processing and reviewing mentor-protégé applications and agreements. Instead of creating four new and separate programs covering each of the small business contracting programs (i.e., small business, SDVOSB, WOSB, and HUBZone), SBA chose to create a single program for all small business concerns modeled after the existing 8(a) Business Development (BD) mentor-protégé program, which will continue to operate as a separate program. Alongside these regulations, the Final Rule revises guidelines for joint venture agreements between a mentor and a protégé.

Opening the mentor-protégé program to new categories of small businesses creates significant opportunities for both large and small businesses. Because of the expected avalanche of applications from companies wishing to participate in this program, an overview of which is provided below, businesses that anticipate submitting applications for approval of mentor-protégé agreements should do so as soon as possible after the program goes into effect.
Continue Reading Mentor-Protégé Expansion Creates Opportunities for all Government Contractors Large and Small

We recently authored an article outlining the provisions and ramifications of the General Services Administration’s (GSA) final rule governing transactional data reporting, released on June 23, 2016.  As the most significant change to the GSA Federal Supply Schedules (FSS) program in the last two decades, the new rule requires each vendor subject to the provisions to electronically submit monthly reports that provide 11 transactional data elements and replaces the current requirements relating to Commercial Sales Practices (CSP) disclosures and the Price Reduction Clause (PRC). While many remain skeptical of the benefits of the new rule, the GSA believes the transactional data clause will reduce the administrative burden on contractors, promote competition and transparency, and benefit small businesses that often lack the necessary resources to devote to business intelligence and development.

Continue Reading Update: GSA Requests Comments on Releasing Data Obtained through the New Transactional Data Reporting Rule

In most federal procurements, regulations require procuring agencies to consider an offeror’s past performance in evaluating proposals. However, while the consideration of past performance may be a standard element of an evaluation, what an agency actually considers as part of that past performance evaluation is not set in stone. Agencies can consider different types of past performance, and weigh the importance of different elements of past performance in various ways, changing from procurement to procurement. Agencies have the discretion to choose the kinds of past performances it will review, which personnel are relevant to an evaluation, how many references should be provided, and the cut-off date for each past performance reference. As long as the evaluation is reasonable, it is generally acceptable. However, if the agency’s chosen method or execution of its past performance evaluation is ultimately unreasonable, a challenge to the evaluation may lead to a sustained protest.

Two recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) bid protest decisions help draw the line between reasonable and unreasonable past performance evaluations. The recent decision in Logistics Management International, Inc. demonstrates that it is permissible for an agency to ignore the past performances of key individual personnel, and instead only concentrate on a company’s previous performances as a whole. In denying that protest, GAO found that it is within an agency’s discretion to define the scope of its own past performance review. On the other hand, in the recent decision of Patricio Enterprises Inc., GAO decided it was unreasonable for the agency to essentially penalize an offeror simply because it provided more past performance references than the competing contractor.

Continue Reading Learning from Bid Protests: Agencies Generally Set their Own Rules in Past Performance Evaluations

On June 23, 2016, the General Services Administration (GSA) released a final rule that will result in the most significant change to the GSA Federal Supply Schedules (FSS) program in the last two decades. 81 FR 41103 (New Rule). The New Rule introduces a transactional data reporting element to the FSS program, effectively replacing the current requirements relating to Commercial Sales Practices (CSP) disclosures and the Price Reduction Clause (PRC).

Under current FSS regulations, contractors are required to submit CSP disclosures with their initial offer for a FSS contract, which includes a broad disclosure of discounts the contractor offers to commercial customers for similar products and services. The CSP disclosures are used to identify a “tracking customer,” which consists of a customer or category of customers that will be tracked to identify pricing discounts to GSA customers. The PRC requires the contractor to monitor its ongoing commercial sales to ensure that the government receives the same price reductions given to the “tracking customer.” Through the New Rule, GSA is replacing the CSP disclosures and PRC requirements with a different method of award monitoring: transactional data reporting.

Continue Reading Major Changes to GSA’s Federal Supply Schedules Program

Today, one week following the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision requiring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to set-aside contracts and Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) orders for eligible veteran-owned businesses under the Rule of Two, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship held a hearing on how the decision will affect VA procurement going forward. Chairman David Vitter (R-LA) orchestrated the two-panel hearing alongside Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Chairman Vitter made clear that the Senate wanted to understand how the Kingdomware decision will affect veteran-owned businesses and how to ensure that the VA is implementing the statute’s proper interpretation.

The first panel featured Thomas J. Leney, the Executive Director for the VA, and John A. Shoraka, an Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Speaking on behalf of the VA, Leney stated that the VA is committed to implementing the Supreme Court’s decision and has already started its review of current procurements. According to Leney, to enforce the decision, the VA is working on creating formal rules and new policy guidelines to regulate how veteran-owned businesses are considered under the Rule of Two. The Supreme Court clarified that the Rule of Two requires setting aside contracts for every competitive VA acquisition, including FSS orders, when two or more eligible veteran-owned concerns will submit offers and an award can be made at a fair and reasonable price. While his remarks emphasized the VA’s approach moving forward, Leney struggled to respond to Senator Vitter’s inquiry into why the VA has spent years improperly applying the Rule of Two to veteran-owned small businesses. While the VA was unable to set a hard cutoff date for when it can assure that all awards will comply with the guidelines of the decision, Senator Vitter set a July 15, 2016, deadline for the VA to issue an update to the Committee to demonstrate their improved procurement methods. According to the chairman, a delay in implementing the Rule of Two would be equivalent to resisting the decision of the Supreme Court – even a three month delay would be unwarranted.

Continue Reading Senate Hearing: Ramifications of the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware Decision

Preparing a proposal in response to a government solicitation can be a daunting project. It’s not always possible to discern from the solicitation language exactly what the procuring agency wants, and so a certain amount of guessing and hoping is usually involved. However, this process is made doubly more frustrating when it seems that the agency is holding out on you. It is probably unwise for an agency to withhold important information about their procurement, if only for the sake of competition. Even so, there are certain situations where an agency holding back crucial information is a violation of the FAR, and may lead to a successful protest.

This principle was on display in a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) bid protest decision, Crowley Logistics, Inc. GAO’s decision in Crowley hinged on the discussions between the procuring agency and the offerors, and whether those discussions were proper. In a negotiated procurement, agencies have the ability to make an award based solely on the proposals initially submitted by offerors. However, the procuring agency also has the option to use the initial proposals to establish a competitive range that includes the offers most likely to receive an award. Once the competitive range is established, the agency then holds discussions with the offerors in the competitive range, allowing those offerors to submit revised proposals in response to the discussions with the agency. If a procuring agency chooses the latter option, the discussions that it holds must be meaningful and equitable across all offerors in the competitive range.

Continue Reading Learning from Bid Protests: Procuring Agencies Cannot Hold Out on You