Sterling protests $148M award to Hughes STX

Sterling Software Inc. last week filed a protest with the General Accounting Office accusing NASA of wrongly judging its past performance during the competition for a $148 million software support contract awarded this month.

NASA Ames Research Center last week ordered Hughes STX Corp. winner of the five-year contract to stop work on the project while GAO rules on the complaint filed by Sterling. The contract will support the use of information technology on activities ranging from aircraft testing to the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

Phil Kiviat vice president for business development at Sterling's federal sales office said the protest was based on the company's view that NASA procurement officials unfairly judged Sterling's performance as incumbent on the contract. He said Sterling had been repeatedly cited for its good performance at NASA Ames but the evaluation for the contract did not reflect those citations.

"This is work we have been doing out there for over 25 years and we have received a lot of NASA-wide awards and citations " Kiviat said. "To find that we received a less than excellent score [during the competition] caused us to look at other elements of the rating and we just feel it was not equitable."

Kiviat contended that Sterling submitted the lowest bid on the contract 9 percent lower than Hughes' bid and that NASA's denial of an excellent past-performance rating for Sterling may have kept the company from winning the contract. He added that even if Hughes did receive a slightly better past-performance rating than Sterling it might not justify the government paying 9 percent more for support services.

A spokesman for Hughes STX acknowledged that the company had received NASA's order to halt work on the contract but he refused to comment on Sterling's protest.

Researchers at NASA Ames said last week they are anxious about whether the protest will affect the progress of their work. "Our concern is about the disruption of our support services " said Heinz Erzberger senior scientist for air traffic management at NASA Ames. "I'm neutral as to who will eventually get this contract. I'm just worried about maintaining the momentum of our research."

NASA Ames contracting officer Robert Carlson could not be reached for comment.

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