Small biz terms force PTO to cancel PC buy

The Patent and Trademark Office this month canceled a $171 million small business set-aside desktop acquisition after it was informed by the Small Business Administration that it could no longer award the contract to a team composed of a small business and a large manufacturer.

PTO had planned to use the Desktop Acquisition ReMap Team (DART) contract to purchase up to 24,000 desktop and 1,198 laptop computers over five years. The computers were to be used by employees to access mission-critical systems that search large collections of patent and trademark databases, and they also would have been used to perform applications such as word processors and spreadsheets.

PTO designed DART as a small business set-aside, but the SBA granted PTO a special waiver in April that would allow small businesses to partner with large PC manufacturers to meet the contract's requirements.

The SBA had granted the waiver based on market research it had conducted with PTO, which concluded that there were no small businesses that could provide the breadth, depth and volume of products DART required.

However, a letter signed last month by Judith Roussel, associate administrator for government contracting at SBA, stated that SBA would only grant the waiver for the first year of the contract because it discovered that some small businesses can meet the requirements of the contract without the help of a large manufacturer. Several small businesses, which Roussel declined to name, presented SBA with proof that they could provide the products called for under DART, she said.

"Once we know they are in the market, and subsequently we're able to provide sufficient documentation of their ability to provide the product, then we are bound by law," Roussel said in an interview. "We notified [PTO] that the waiver granted, based on new information, would expire at the end of a year."

After the end of the year, PTO would have to consider awarding the contract to a small business for years two through five.

PTO, however, decided this month that it would cancel the DART solicitation. "SBA withdrew the waiver for years two through five," said Dennis Shaw, chief information officer at PTO. "It didn't make sense for us to go through the process for a one-year buy window. All bids were submitted based on a five-year window. We didn't think it was fair to those who submitted proposals." PTO had not yet evaluated the proposals, he said.

Although the DART solicitation may be dead, the agency still needs to buy thousands of PCs and laptops, Shaw said. PTO also had planned to buy printers, peripherals and other components.

PTO will release a new desktop solicitation, but it has not yet decided how it will proceed or package the requirements, Shaw said. This decision should be made within the next few weeks. "We're exploring our options," Shaw said.

Some small businesses that originally bid on DART could be cut out from any future solicitation because they are not manufacturers, said Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc.

"I would think the small businesses, except for the small manufacturers, might rise up and protest this because that's how a lot of them make their money," Dornan said. "All the small businesses on the General Services Administration schedule deliver Compaq [Computer Corp.] and Hewlett-Packard [Co.] and products like that. That's a fairly common practice."

There also are many other options PTO could take advantage of, including seat management, the GSA schedule and other governmentwide contracts, Dornan said.

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