GSA to go ahead with Alliant
Officials must decide specific remedy after court rules in favor of protesters
The General Services Administration plans to proceed with Alliant, a 10- year, $50 billion information technology contract, despite a judge’s ruling that upheld protests filed by eight losing bidders.
“GSA remains committed to moving forward with Alliant,” an agency spokesman said last week. “Alliant will be a key tool for agencies to achieve their IT objectives in a streamlined, cost-effective manner for the next decade.”
However, the agency is still considering its options for the contract’s long-term future.
An announcement is due “very soon,” a GSA spokesman said With two other major governmentwide IT contracts, Applications’N Support for Widely-diverse End-user Requirements (ANSWER) and Millenia, expiring in early 2009, agencies seeking a task order that extends beyond a year may start looking for other contract vehicles, said Mary Whitley, former assistant commissioner for customer relationship management and sales at GSA’s former Federal Technology Service.
Whitley said one possibility might be to extend Millenia and ANSWER to give agencies additional options if the Alliant controversy is not resolved quickly.
Federal Claims Court Judge Francis Allegra halted the Alliant contract March 3 by ruling in favor of eight bidding companies that had protested GSA’s awards to 30 companies. The decision was released publicly March 5.
On March 6, Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said GSA had made no decision about how it would proceed.However, he added, the most extreme solutions — awarding spots on the contract to all 62 bidders or scrapping the program all together — were not on the table.
“We are absolutely committed to Alliant,” Williams said, adding that he and other agency officials were “very disap- pointed” in the court ruling. GSA officials believed they had done a good job of analyzing the bids and selecting awardees, he said.
The bid protesters and Allegra disagreed, saying that GSA didn’t pick the winners fairly. The court sustained protests against GSA’s contract, which GSA awarded originally in July to 29 companies.
However, the judge gave GSA the option of brokering a deal with the protesting companies and moving ahead with the contract.
The ruling prohibits GSA from taking orders on the contract and suspends any activities related to it.
The judge also ruled that GSA couldn’t rely on the same methods it used in the past to determine which companies earn a place on the contract in the future.
The agency’s award process was a major reason that Allegra sustained the protests. The judge ruled that GSA didn’t apply the same award criteria equally to all 62 companies that bid for a spot on the contract.
In the ruling, the Allegra wrote that GSA attached “talismanic significance to technical calculations that suffer from false precision” and failed to adequately weigh prices in its review of contractors’ bids. “Those compounding errors prejudiced the plaintiffs and oblige this court to set aside the awards in question,” he wrote.
According to the ruling, GSA made a good-faith effort to distinguish among the bidders, “yet, on a variety of planes, the agency’s effort came up well short, resulting in award decisions that were arbitrary, capricious and otherwise contrary to law,” the opinion states.
A focus of the protesters’ complaint was GSA’s use of information about their past performance in contracting. The agency used a survey to gather that information, but it relied on questions that were too general, the judge wrote. In particular, GSA relied on performance information from Calyptus, a polling firm whose employees weren’t given enough guidance on how to interpret responses from the bidders’ refere nces or about whether they had enough information about the bidders, according to the opinion.
The judge ruled that the survey questions were too general.
People who filled out the survey forms were asked to rate a company’s performance based on a five-point scale that ranged from “adverse” to “outstanding.”
A single adjective, coupled with GSA’s technical rating system, could easily affect bidders’ chances of an award, the judge wrote.
Stanley Associates, one of the original protestors, dropped its complaint against GSA after agency officials acknowledged a slight mistake in its adjective-based rating system.
Correcting the error boosted Stanley’s score on the rating system, and GSA quickly made it the 30th contractor on Alliant, according to the opinion.
More important, GSA didn’t ensure that the polling information was relevant to the bid evaluations and didn’t check the accuracy of the survey’s sketchy information, yet the agency still counted the information heavily in determining the awards, the opinion states.
The ruling also criticized GSA’s evaluation of pricing. Although GSA set up benchmarks related to price, it ultimately awarded spots on the contract to some companies whose prices were among the highest. Agency officials said the prices were fair and reasonable, even though the most expensive winners listed prices twice as high as the lowest winning bidder and about 30 percent higher than an independent government cost estimate.
“The agency’s inadequate treatment of price, therefore, constitutes yet another reason why the award decisions here must be set aside,” the judge ruled.