GAO backs protest pair

General Accounting Office officials have sided with the losing bidders in two contract protests.

In one, GAO officials contended that an Environmental Protection Agency award to Lockheed Martin Services Inc. could lead to a conflict of interest. In the other, they ruled that Global Science and Technology Inc.'s contract with NASA did not match the description of the task to be performed. Information Ventures Inc. officials protested NASA's decision to hire Global Science and Technology for database bibliographic services. The work calls for collecting and organizing electronic references to space life science research.

However, GAO found that the description of the work includes tasks, such as creating promotional materials, preparing research highlights, researching specialized subject matter and performing in-depth literature searches, that lie outside of the information technology contract that NASA signed with Global Science and Technology.

"The fundamental nature of the services required does not simply involve the design of a database, the maintenance of data/records, facilities management or other [IT] services, as NASA contends," wrote Anthony Gamboa, GAO's general counsel.

The decision to uphold the protest against NASA comes on the heels of the EPA-related ruling.

GAO sustained a protest of an IT contract that the EPA awarded to Lockheed Martin Services Inc. The protest, mounted by Science Applications International Corp. officials, argues that the agency did not consider Lockheed's potential conflict of interest in the contract for systems development, data management, training, statistical services and scientific applications. Lockheed won the contract for about $700 million in January.

Among the issues raised was the potential for Lockheed officials to conduct surveys in areas where one of the company's production facilities is located.

In recent years, protests of contract awards have rarely succeeded, said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services at Federal Sources Inc. "There used to be a saying that the cost of a protest is the cost of putting a stamp on an envelope," Bjorklund said. "The cost of filing a protest -- if you intend to be successful -- is a lot more now. It's tough to do." But it's too early to say that the decisions amount to a procurement bellwether, he said.

Losing bidders have two options in protesting awards. They can go through GAO or the U.S. Court of Claims. Bjorklund called the route through the judicial system extreme and said the cost prohibits many contractors from taking that tack.

Both GAO decisions recommended that the protesters be reimbursed for case-related expenses. Officials also recommended that NASA put its contract out for bid again.

"There are a variety of other discussions that need to take place, whether GAO is questioning the government and the government's decision or questioning the contractor or outside sources," Bjorklund said.

Typically, the agency awarding the contract has had the sovereignty to work out conflicts with the losing offeror. "Consequently," he explained. "GAO is going to stand behind the agency. That's kind of the philosophy of how it works now."

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