Ex-WAAS vendor Wilcox challenges award to Hughes

Wilcox Electric Inc., recently removed as the prime contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration's Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), last week challenged the agency's decision to award the contract to subcontractor Hughes Aircraft Co. without soliciting new bids.

According to Wilcox, WAAS, a $475 million program to build a satellite-based navigation system, should be recompeted in light of the FAA's decision to ease technical and delivery requirements as part of the new contract.

Given the new requirements, "we really don't think there is a rational basis for [a single-source award]," said Bill Marberg, president and chief executive officer at Wilcox, Kansas City, Mo.

The FAA declined to comment on the protest. The protest, filed last week with the FAA's new Office of Dispute Resolution, will be the first challenge handled under the agency's new acquisition system.

The FAA terminated the original contract with Wilcox in April because of the vendor's inability to redress program management problems, the agency said at the time.

Failures to establish a performance management baseline and other issues raised concerns about Wilcox's ability to deliver WAAS on time and on budget, FAA officials said.

However, under the new contract, Hughes has an eight-month extension for delivering the scaled-down WAAS system in 1998. The new contract also leaves out a number of "stringent requirements" Wilcox had to meet, the company said.

For example, WAAS now requires only two satellites as part of the program, and Hughes will not need to operate its satellite uplinks on channels dedicated fully to WAAS, Wilcox said.

"They have an easier job to do and more time to do it," Marberg said. "We can see why the FAA might want to change its requirements," he said, but "we certainly think we can provide that system."

In its protest letter, Wilcox asked the FAA to cancel the Hughes contract and solicit new proposals based on the new requirements.

Under the FAA's new acquisition system, which went into effect April 2, the Office of Dispute Resolution is the only venue, outside the U.S. courts, for challenging contract decisions. The new system also gives the agency a lot of flexibility in deciding how to resolve any protests.

The protest by Wilcox will not necessarily delay performance on the WAAS contract. "The FAA will require continued performance with respect to disputes arising under a contract...pending final decision on a dispute related to that contract," according to the FAA's acquisition guidelines.

However, Wilcox hopes the FAA will use its new-found freedom to make a quick decision, Marberg said. That hope was why the vendor decided to test the new FAA system rather than take the protest into the courts. "We assume there will be a rapid response," Marberg said. "We want to get a new procurement out quickly."

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