Alliant faces months-long setback

Why the protesters won

Why did Federal Claims Court Judge Francis Allegra sustain the protests of eight companies that had bid unsuccessfully on the General Services Administration’s Alliant contract? Allegra ruled that, among other problems, GSA didn’t properly consider past performance and price.

GSA based its system on a complicated formula that combined the bidders’ basic contract plan and the companies’ past performance scores. The agency tallied past performance using “sketchy” information gathered by surveying the companies’ past customers.

Allegra held that the past performance information didn’t convey enough detail and didn’t meet the Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements, such as considering its currency, relevance and the source.

— Matthew Weigelt

Agencies and contractors waiting to start work on task orders through the General Services Administration’s Alliant contract will remain idle for several more months, procurement experts say.

GSA officials began notifying companies last week that they plan to re-evaluate all 62 bids for the 10-year, $50 billion Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract. The decision followed a March 3 opinion of Federal Claims Court Judge Francis Allegra that upheld protests filed by eight losing bidders.

A GSA spokesman said agency officials have reviewed Allegra’s decision carefully.

After re-evaluating the bids, GSA will, in effect, award the contract again, the spokesman said. GSA officials declined to provide a timeline for finishing the process, but they promised to provide contractors more details soon.

Industry experts said the process is likely to take four to six months for GSA to complete. Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group, said that if the agency works fast and intensely, the new awards could come by August.

“It’s aggressive, but not at all impossible,” said Woods, former commissioner of GSA’s now-defunct Federal Technology Service. GSA’s top management is likely to push the Integrated Technology Service to get through the work quickly, he said.

A few experts said GSA could finish as early as June.

Alliant, which will offer agencies a centralized place to buy information technology products and services, has been in the works for years. In October 2003, GSA officials were creating buzz about a streamlined IT contract fashioned from merging two governmentwide contracts.

GSA awarded Alliant in July 2007, but the contract has been on hold ever since because of the protests.

Allegra upheld the protests, holding that GSA did a poor job of evaluating the bid proposals. The judge left the door open for GSA to work out a deal with the protesting companies, but industry experts agreed that the agency’s decision to restart the award phase is the better option.

Simply adding the eight protesting companies to the 30 awardees would probably have caused the other 24 companies to protest, experts said.

GSA’s decision is “is not necessarily the [fast] lane to Alliant nirvana,” but it shows the judge that GSA is doing its due diligence, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

That diligence is important because awarding contracts always includes an element of subjectivity on the agency’s part.

Subjectivity opens the door for possible protests, Allen said.

As GSA starts to again look at the proposals, new concerns are likely to emerge, said Phil Kiviat, a partner with the consulting firm Guerra Kiviat.

Companies that initially won spots on the contract and developed their marketing plans and internal strategies around their belief that the contract would be available to them could suffer greatly if they don’t retain those spots following GSA’s fresh look, Kiviat said.

“This is going to get nasty,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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