Editorial: GSA's Alliant lessons

By the time this issue of Federal Computer Week hits the streets, the General Services Administration might have announced its strategy for moving forward with its $50 billion Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract. But in addition to immediate decisions about how to resolve a lingering lawsuit, GSA needs to take proactive steps to assure its customers that they can have faith in the government’s contracting organization.

GSA’s reputation has suffered because of the public reprimand Judge Francis Allegra gave the agency in sustaining the protests of eight losing bidders on the Alliant contract. His ruling is critical of how GSA conducted the Alliant procurement.

Although the court determined that GSA made a good-faith effort to distinguish among the bidders, Allegra wrote that “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.” Furthermore, 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,” Allegra wrote.

Now is the time for GSA to turn adversity into an opportunity for leadership. After all, the issues surrounding assessments and protests are not exclusive to GSA. The Army’s Information Technology Enterprise Solutions- 2 Services contract ran into similar problems.

We believe GSA will — and should — conduct its own assessment to determine whether the judge’s criticisms were valid and, if so, what the agency is doing to ensure that those problems are addressed. We also recommend that GSA take the bold step of presenting its lessons learned in a public forum.

That approach would allow GSA to play a leadership role.

It could create a framework for how such assessments should work — for the benefit of all agencies and vendors. It would also be a bold and significant step toward creating a procurement environment in which people discuss issues and work together to find solutions.

Clearly, there is important work to be done before GSA can start a self-assessment, but it should take advantage of the occasion to turn adversity into opportunity.

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