Sun: Army biased for Windows NT

Sun Microsystems Inc. may bring the Army Workstation-I program to a halt, with an 11th-hour protest against awards to Digital Equipment Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. filed last week.

According to the protest filed with the General Services Administration's Board of Contract Appeals, the Workstation-I program office opted for two low-cost, technically inferior solutions despite a stated focus on technical performance.

"It looks like the Army didn't follow what they said they would do" in evaluating the proposals, said John Leahy, group manager for government affairs at Sun Microsystems Federal. "We knew there was going to be a low-end emphasis, but they've got to follow what the specifications call for."

Digital, HP and the Army declined to comment.

Digital and HP won contracts worth as much as $590 million in mid-May. Losing bidders included Sun, Sysorex Information Systems Inc., Concept Automation Inc. and Axil Computer. Digital and HP have intervened on the Army's behalf.

Much of Sun's protest focuses on how the Army evaluated proposals that included an "alternate operating system," an optional component of the program the Army added after its initial solicitation.

Most vendors interpreted the AOS as meaning Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT.

Digital won its contract by offering Unix and Windows NT. HP offered Unix and a Compartmented Mode Workstation but told the Army it would add Windows NT-based systems immediately, according to Sun's protest. HP introduced its first Windows NT offerings two weeks ago.

After that amendment was released, HP and several other vendors considered pulling out of the competition because the program appeared slanted toward low-end Windows NT systems.

However, the Army assured prospective bidders they would not be penalized if they did not bid the lower-cost AOS.

Sun, which did not offer an AOS, said it was led to believe that the Army Information Systems Selection and Acquisition Agency (ISSAA) would account for the differences in technical capabilities between Unix and the alternate system. This is despite the fact that the AOS did not have to meet many of the same requirements - such as development tools, tape and network backup systems and a video teleconferencing application - as Unix.

However, "ISSAA failed to follow its stated evaluation criteria [and] improperly evaluated any AOS proposed by any offeror as technically equivalent to the fully compliant, basic Unix operating systems," according to Sun's protest. That approach provided other bidders "with a windfall in their technical scores and a significant advantage in their price evaluation."

Additionally, Sun's protest alleges that Digital and HP bid systems that have reached the end of their product life, which allowed the vendors to bid low with the intent of adding more costly products after award. According to Sun, Digital no longer plans to ship the AlphaStation 200 and 400, both offered on its Army bid.

Finally, both winning proposals also failed to meet numerous other contract requirements. In one case, HP's database server software only provides two user licenses rather than the eight required by the contract.

"Sun Federal's proposal met all of the solicitation's mandatory requirements and significantly exceeded the most important of those requirements," Sun said in its protest. "ISSAA's waiver of these minimum requirements for Digital and HP resulted in unfair and unequal treatment...to the significant competitive prejudice of Sun Federal."

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