GSA gives Alliant a second look
- By Matthew Weigelt
- May 19, 2008
The phrase “get it right” might have a new meaning for the General Services Administration, but a judge’s decision has put the necessity of careful contracting documentation back into the spotlight. GSA officials are racing to get the Alliant contract awarded once and for all by the end of the year, following an upheld protest that undid the 2007 award decisions.
GSA officials, feeling pressure from agencies and industry, are determined to award the $50 billion governmentwide acquisition contract soon so agencies can start using it. The contract was thrown into limbo in March after a judge sustained a protest. GSA officials said this week they are taking time to re-examine the Alliant bids to avoid any future hold-ups.
“We are working as fast and as furiously as we can while we maintain the integrity of the program, and dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s,” said John Johnson, GSA assistant commissioner at the Federal Acquisition Service’s Office of Integrated Technology Services.
Johnson said GSA will have the contract awarded by December, which would be 17 months after GSA’s initial award.
The agency is reviewing the past performance information for the 62 companies bidding on the Alliant contract after a federal judge ruled in March that GSA failed to evaluate the past performance information consistently. To make sure GSA gets it right across the board, Johnson said, GSA also is re-evaluating the Alliant Small Business contract.
Redoing the evaluation will give credence to GSA’s next round of Alliant awards, agency officials said. There is a strong possibility of another round of protests by losing companies.
“If it is ever challenged, we have 100 percent certainty that there are no alleged flaws — and I use that word purposely,” Johnson said.
GSA officials “want to validate that what we did was right, and we want to be on solid ground as we make our final award decisions,” Johnson said. He suggested subtly that the original Alliant awards were correct, although the judge’s decision leaves GSA with few options other than conducting a full re-evaluation.
Federal Claims Court Judge Francis Allegra disagreed with GSA’s actions in awarding the governmentwide Alliant contract for information technology products and services. In March, he ruled that GSA failed to make consistent and fair evaluations of the 62 companies bidding on Alliant. It will become GSA’s flagship IT contract as older contracts expire.
GSA made some mistakes in ranking bidders’ basic contract plans, Allegra said in the ruling. He also said officials didn’t sufficiently document the price evaluations and the agency’s reasons for selecting the 30 awardees.
However, the most important issue centered on GSA’s past performance evaluations, Johnson said. Allegra ruled that GSA applied past performance evaluations inconsistently.
GSA is redoing its evaluations for Alliant and the companion contract, Alliant Small Business, Johnson said.
However, this time GSA itself will evaluate the bids and past performance records, Johnson said. In making the original determinations, the agency hired an outside firm to contact the references that bidders provided. GSA will reassess the information the bidders originally filed rather than asking for additional data, he said.
GSA will follow the court’s instructions. However, it most likely will arrive at the same award decisions it made earlier, procurement experts say. They predicted that GSA would make few changes in its evaluation.
William Shook, a partner at law firm Kirkpatrick Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, said “papering the record” is really all that GSA needs to do to re-evaluate the Alliant awards and get Allegra’s approval. Ultimately, the agency wants to satisfy the judge’s requirements, he said.
&am p;am p;ld quo;As long as there’s documentation, that’s often good enough for the courts,” Shook said. To fulfill that goal, GSA would only need to increase the documentation justifying the original award decisions, he said.
“They hold the cards for the next award decisions,” said Shook, a former congressional investigator.
GSA reviewed Alliant on a previous occasion. The agency originally selected 29 awardees. But after reviewing its decisions in 2007, the agency added Stanley and Associates to the contract in December. Norm Lorentz, vice president of the Council for Excellence in Government, said that action shows GSA’s willingness to make changes. But he said he would like to think the initial awards were mostly correct.
Lorentz said it’s most important to award to capable companies that can handle agencies’ work.
Johnson said GSA can’t simply hand out awards to each bidder on the Alliant contract because it would hurt the reliability of GSA’s flagship program. “We’d be throwing in the towel on integrity,” he said. “Fundamentally, there could be some assertion that the awards we made were flawed.”
GSA plans to go through the same review process for its Alliant Small Business contract awards because GSA used essentially the same evaluation template for that contract, Johnson said. There are 62 companies on the small-business contract.
Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.