PTO buys despite protests

Three vendors filed protests last month with the General Accounting Office arguing that the Patent and Trademark Office made mistakes in evaluating bids for a $171 million purchase of desktop systems.

But in an unusual move PTO officials decided late last month not to suspend the contract and to continue to buy the systems from the winner Hughes Data Systems prompting a threat from the protesting companies to take their complaints to federal court.

Protesters International Data Products Corp. Dunn Computer Corp. and I-NET Inc. requested that PTO suspend the contract award pending the outcome of the protests. Dunn Computer said the contract award to Hughes was done "without clarifying any issues and was awarded to a significantly higher bidder " said Thomas Dunn company president. The company said PTO penalized the company erroneously and performed a flawed technical evaluation.

IDP maintains that the government improperly evaluated the company's proposal in several non-price-related criteria giving the company a lower ranking and made "significant" mistakes in its evaluation of the IDP proposal. I-NET declined to comment on its protest.

If a bid protest is filed with GAO within specified time periods the contracting agency must suspend the contract performance until the protest is resolved. However an agency can override the automatic suspension if it determines that it is in the best interest of the government to proceed with the contract.

In a letter to GAO's general counsel late last month Bruce Lehman assistant secretary of Commerce and commissioner of patents and trademarks "authorized the continuation of contract performance notwithstanding" the protests because he wrote PTO has an "immediate need" for the desktop workstations.

The PTO cannot "support its mission without them " Lehman said. "The equipment currently in use does not have the performance characteristics needed to operate concurrent applications and applications which display images needed by patent examiners and trademark attorneys " he said.

GAO's decision on the protests may take up to 100 days which Lehman said could delay the deployment of 700 workstations until March of next year.

"The PTO would need to have approximately 30 additional contractor staff to make up for the lost deployment and would have to lease additional space for the storage of extra workstations " he said.PTO is taking on some risk by overriding an automatic suspension of the contract. "The protests are resolved [by GAO] regardless of the impact on the agency " said Bob Dornan senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. McLean Va. "If the PTO incurs millions of dollars in damage [if the protests are upheld] then that's too bad. The GAO could not take that into consideration."

These protests are not the only ones filed against this contract. Concept Automation Inc. filed and later withdrew a protest.

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