In an opinion first publicly released on November 3, the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) took the somewhat usual, but not unheard of, step of sanctioning the government for mishandling the administrative record (AR) in a bid protest. Contractors can take heart that COFC will hold the government accountable when it fails to produce the entire AR.  The decision also provides a useful reminder of one of the advantages of filing a protest at COFC rather than the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Background

As we recently wrote about on this blog, on August 2, Judge Solomson sustained a protest filed by Oak Grove Technologies that argued the putative awardee had improperly benefited from unmitigated unequal access to information and biased ground rules organizational conflicts of interests. The decision noted that the government had failed to include in the AR a Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) report indicating an offeror was ineligible and a letter terminating the chair of the Source Selection Evaluation Board that suggested the chair had failed to evaluate the offerors’ proposals fairly.

The decision admonished the government for its “sentient choices regarding the contents of the administrative record, all of which appear to have favored the Agency,” noting that “[s]uch apparent gamesmanship wastes judicial resources and undermines trust in both the procurement and disputes process.”


Continue Reading Records in Bid Protest Become More Complete – COFC Sanctions the Government for AR Omissions

Organizational conflicts of interest (OCI) are troubling for both the government and contractors. Under FAR 2.101, an OCI is a situation where “a person is unable or potentially unable to render impartial assistance or advice to the Government, or the person’s objectivity in performing the contract work is or might be otherwise impaired, or a person has an unfair competitive advantage.” In an OCI investigation, a contracting officer (CO) should assess OCI risk during the pre-award and post-award procurement processes.

Recent Court of Federal Claims (COFC) Cases

On August 2, 2021, Judge Solomson issued his decision in Oak Grove Technologies, LLC v. United States. The unsuccessful offeror, Oak Grove Technologies (OGT), filed a bid protest challenging the United States’ award to the successful offeror, F3EA. In the complaint, OGT questioned the agency’s award decision and raised numerous challenges regarding the evaluation process. OGT also provided evidence that F3EA had allegedly improperly benefited from unequal access to information and biased ground rules. Essentially, OGT argued that an OCI tarnished the award. During a hearing, the court questioned the integrity of the procurement and recognized that OGT was not treated with the fairness required under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  The court ultimately granted OGT’s motion and the agency was prevented from proceeding with the award to F3EA.


Continue Reading Not Quite Good Enough: COFC Finds Agencies OCI Investigations Fall Short

While most federal procurements are conducted using the onerous regulations set forth in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and agency supplements, agencies are increasingly relying on the more flexible, but lesser-known, Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) to meet developmental requirements.  Congress has authorized only a limited number of agencies to use this authority, which was first included in NASA’s enabling legislation to ensure NASA had the flexibility to meets its unique needs.  The authority is further limited to use by “non-traditional” government contractors. It is generally restricted to prototype/development work, although agencies are authorized to enter into follow-on production contracts with OTA prototype participants.

Despite these limitations, the ability to customize intellectual property terms, among others, has led to a significant increase in the use of OTAs over the past decade.  In FY20 alone, the federal government entered into OTAs worth over $16 billion, including approximately $9 billion on COVID-19-related purchases.

But before a company pursues an OTA opportunity, it is essential to understand that ability to challenge OTA awards is limited.  In addition, jurisdictional questions have created considerable uncertainty for aggrieved contractors who wish to file a protest in connection with these agreements.  Although pre-and post-award protests challenging FAR-based procurements can only be heard at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or the Court of Federal Claims (COFC), recent decisions indicate that jurisdiction to hear OTA challenges at both is extremely limited.  And in the past year, U.S. district courts have held that they too have limited jurisdiction that hinges on whether the issue involves a procurement contract—either current or future.


Continue Reading The Black Hole of Protest Jurisdiction: Can I Challenge the Award of an “Other Transaction Agreement”?

In the past, we have cautioned readers about the potential impact of transactions on pending awards, particularly on the ability of a contractor to protest.  A recent decision from the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) shows that transactions during a protest may also pose risks to a contractor’s standing.

On September 9, COFC dismissed a protest filed by Lank Shark Shredding LLC after Land Shark sold assets after the protest had been filed.  Land Shark had filed a May 2019 complaint challenging the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) cancellation of a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) set-aside contract for shredding services.  The solicitation had been canceled because only Land Shark had submitted a timely proposal and the VA determined that Land Shark’s proposal suffered from pricing and technical defects.

Background: Company Sold Assets After Protest Was Filed

During oral argument in June 2021, it was revealed for the first time that Land Shark had sold “its name, assets, and business interest, and that these transactions raised questions regarding whether the case caption should be amended to reflect Land Shark’s new name, Disabled Veterans Security, LLC, … and whether any entity had standing to bring this case.”


Continue Reading Selling Assets During a Protest?  Careful You Don’t Jump the Shark

As we previously discussed in a 2019 blog post, since 2018 Bass, Berry & Sims Government Contracts and Litigation attorneys have successfully defended B&O JV in a host of challenges to an 8(a) small business set-aside award by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).  On May 20, 2021, the Federal Circuit gave our client and team yet another win when it denied a request for a rehearing filed by Safeguard Base Operation, LLC, a disappointed offeror that included in the joint venture the prior incumbent.

Over the past three years, we have successfully defended B&O JV against over half a dozen challenges to the award filed by Safeguard.  Our team’s undefeated record includes:

Safeguard’s primary complaint was that it had been improperly excluded from the competition for failure to include plug numbers provided by FLETC for service work request Contract Line Item Numbers (CLINs).  When multiple potential offerors submitted questions about a potential ambiguity, FLETC included the plug numbers in its answers that were incorporated into the RFP in an amendment and instructed offerors to include those amounts in the applicable CLINs.  Safeguard, however, did not follow this instruction.  Safeguard also alleged that FLETC had breached an implied-in-fact contract to fairly and honestly consider its proposal.


Continue Reading Bleak House Redux: Another Federal Circuit Win in Protracted Protest Litigation

After a successful challenge last year to the award of a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) set aside task order for technology service desk operations by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP or the Agency), our government contracts team successfully defended the award of that task order after the re-evaluation to our client, Patriot, LLC. The challenge and subsequent successful defense of the award highlight the usefulness of the protest process, a process some contractors are hesitant to use.

CBP initially awarded the task order, issued under the Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 3 (CIO-SP3) indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC), to Candor Solutions, LLC in April 2020.  Patriot protested the award to Candor on April 16, 2020, and less than two weeks later the Agency took corrective action.

Candor’s September 2020 Protest

In September 2020, after re-evaluation, CBP awarded the task order to Patriot.  Candor protested, alleging the agency:

  1. Used a facially unreasonable adjectival rating scheme.
  2. Unreasonably deviated from the rating scheme.
  3. Unreasonably evaluated Candor’s proposal.
  4. Did not evaluate Patriot’s proposal in accordance with the solicitation.


Continue Reading Bass, Berry & Sims Successfully Protests—And Then Defends—Client Award of a Task Order Before the GAO

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims (COFC) decision in HWI Gear, Inc. v. United States highlights the importance of reviewing a solicitation to determine if the text of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 52.219-28 is included in it, as well as the risk of engaging in corporate transactions while a proposal to a procuring agency is pending. In this case, the COFC held that an offeror was required to recertify its size status during a procurement, and the agency’s failure to enforce this requirement invalidated the award.

In HWI Gear, Mechanix Wear, Inc. (Mechanix) and HWI Gear, Inc. (HWI) submitted proposals in response to a solicitation set aside for small businesses. After proposal submission but before award, Mechanix informed the procuring agency that it had changed its corporate structure from a corporation to a limited liability company and changed its corporate name, but that all other terms and conditions in its proposal remained unchanged. Mechanix, however, did not inform the agency that its change in corporate structure was the result of a merger with a large business and that Mechanix no longer qualified as a small business under the size standard established for the procurement. The agency ultimately selected Mechanix as the awardee, and HWI filed a bid protest challenging the agency’s evaluation.


Continue Reading Size Recertification Prior to Award – When is it Required?

We recently wrote an article in Bloomberg Law discussing the impact mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, and restructuring transactions can have on pending bids for government contracts. The article overviews recent bid protest decisions and provides practical guidance on diligence, deal timing and communications with government customers regarding transactions.

The effect of transactions on pending government contract bids is largely governed by the Anti-Assignment Act, which generally prohibits the transfer of a government contract to another party without a government waiver or post-closing novation. “However, transfers ‘incident to the sale of an entire business or sale of an entire portion of a business,’ i.e., transfers occurring ‘by operation of law’ are excepted from the statute,” we clarified in the article.

When evaluating whether a transaction will materially affect a bidder’s ability to perform the contract, we recommend that parties to the transaction consider the following:


Continue Reading How Transactions Involving Government Contractors Can Impact Pending Bids

By failing to object to solicitation terms before the close of bidding, a protester typically waives those objections in a post-award bid before the Court of Federal Claims (COFC). An exception exists, however, where a protester filed a timely pre-award agency-level protest challenging patent errors or ambiguities.

But, as powerfully illustrated by the COFC’s decision in Harmonia Holdings Group, LLC v. United States, this exception is limited. In that case, Harmonia, one of the offerors on the procurement, initially brought an agency-level protest to challenge the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) issuance of two amendments to the solicitation, arguing that the agency improperly denied offerors the opportunity to revise their proposals in response to these amendments. CBP denied the protest.


Continue Reading The Importance of Being Timely: Protester Waives Protest Ground by Unduly Delaying Protest

The government fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, and at the end of each fiscal year federal agencies rush to award contracts and commit funding before that funding expires. As a result, our Government Contracts Practice is typically very busy between September and November filing protests of awards or defending awards to our clients, often filing detailed challenges to awards on very short notice, typically 10 days or less.

This year has been no exception, and we have been grateful that our clients have relied on us to file or defend a number of protests at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Court of Federal Claims related to awards or solicitations issued by the Army, the Navy, the CIA, and the State Department, among others agencies that together total well over $1 billion.

Three Key Issues for Government Contractors to Remember About Protests

While some protests are still pending, in the month of October alone the government agreed to take “corrective action” in five procurements as a result of the protests we filed, giving our clients another shot at important contracts in four post-award protests and agreeing to remedy defects in a solicitation after a pre-award protest. The fact that we continue to see a significant percentage of protests being resolved through corrective action highlights three issues all government contractors should keep in mind.


Continue Reading Tis the Season (for Protests)!