Acquisition

What to make of the Alliant 2 protest rulings

FCW magazine's feature story from July 15.

This article is drawn from a
two-part analysis on WashingtonTechnology.com

The Government Accountability Office ruled this week against a group of businesses protesting aspects of the solicitation for the General Services Administration's $50 billion Alliant 2 contract.

Several companies had filed pre-award protests, and with this last batch, GSA has prevailed in all of them. There are now no pending protests involving Alliant 2, which means GSA is no longer barred from awarding the contract.

But with as many 60 winners expected, GSA is still many months away from announcing who will win spots on the contract.

The agency is using a self-scoring process for the proposals -- an approach GSA pioneered with the OASIS contract. Bidders assign themselves points for relevant experience, past performance, systems, certifications and clearances, and organizational risk assessment. The Alliant 2 solicitation provided for a total of 83,100 points. Bidders also must provide documents to support their scores.

Sevatec, InfoReliance Corp., Enterprise Information Services Inc. and Buchanan & Edwards all filed protests with GAO questioning how pricing was evaluated, how points were assigned for small businesses, and if GSA would make enough awards to ensure competition at the task order level.

GAO denied all of those arguments.

In the area of pricing, GSA is using a process known as “highest technically rated with a fair and reasonable price.” The protesters complained that federal acquisition regulations do not allow for this type of evaluation, but GAO disagreed. While the FAR only talks about LPTA and best value trade-off evaluations, GAO found, the regulations recognize that “these two processes are not the only source selection processes available.”

GAO also denied charges that GSA’s evaluation process violated the Competition in Contracting Act, and protestors' claims that the self-scoring points process wasn’t proper because it didn’t allow for comparison of bidders strengths and weaknesses.

There also were objections to how small business primes received points when they were leading teams of subcontractors with whom they hadn’t worked before. GSA sees risks with teams that haven’t worked together before, and GAO found that concern to be legitimate.

The argument about 60 primes not providing enough competition was interesting, as the protesters used an analysis for Alliant 1 task orders that found roughly half of the task orders had only one bidder. But GSA countered that it has added participation requirements to Alliant 2 to assure competition, such as making primes bid on a minimum number of task orders each year. There also is a requirement that primes perform a certain amount of work each year.

GAO ruled that this was a reasonable approach to assure competition.

More protests to come?

On large contract like this, post-award protests are almost guaranteed. But it's possible that GSA may have effectively bulletproofed Alliant 2.

If one reads the GAO decision closely, there’s just not a whole lot left to protest.

The decision affirms GSA's evaluation criteria and general approach to the contract.

The findings on the concept of “highest technically rated with a fair and reasonable price” don't leave much wiggle-room for post-award challenge. The idea of self-scoring (with supporting documentation) was blessed, and has already been used successfully on OASIS. Small business scoring was addressed, and GAO rejected the argument that the expected pool of winners was too small.

The evaluation criteria is the most common grounds for protests, and GAO has affirmed GSA's approach. And because the proposals are self-scoring, it is going to be hard for companies that don’t make the cut to 60 to argue that they should be added.

Again, the OASIS experience -- which the Alliant 2 team watched carefully -- may be instructive. That contract faced many pre-award protests but only one protest after awards were made. VSE Corp. argued that GSA unreasonably evaluated its experience. GAO denied the protest

There are still some narrow openings a post-award Alliant 2 protest like VSE's, but the outcome might well be the same. Based on the scope of these pre-award rulings, GSA may have cleared the decks of protests going forward -- or at least any that could seriously derail the contract.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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