Battling protests bog down Navy contract

SRA and SAIC are locked in a fight over a Navy Military Sealift Command contract, illustrating everything that people hate about today's bid protest-happy market.

SRA International has won a $5.4 million extension of a contract with the Military Sealift Command to support the Afloat Operations Program. Pretty tame stuff on the surface, but dive into the justification documents behind the extension, and it’s a tale of contract protest hell.

It’s the kind of story that, from the outside, makes you want to pull your hair out. It’s a story of contract awards and protests, and new awards and new protests, with a few sole source contract extensions sprinkled in.

SRA has been serving the Military Sealift Command, or MSC, under a contract since 2006, which was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2012. The contract supports shipboard communications.

The follow-on contract was awarded to Science Applications International Corp. on May 8, 2012, and SRA filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. MSC took a corrective action because of issues with cost evaluations, and issued a new solicitation in August 2012.

Remember, the contract was to run out in September 2012, so MSC extended SRA’s original contract by one month, so the agency could document the need for another contract extension of eight months. That move extended SRA’s contract through June 30, 2013.

Then an award was made based on the new solicitation on April 19, 2013, but this time SRA won, and you guessed it, SAIC filed a protest.

The decision from GAO is expected by Aug. 7, which is why SRA got the $5.4 million extension through Sept. 30, 2013.

But unless GAO rejects SAIC’s protest, allowing work under the new contract to begin, MSC will have to file an extension beyond Sept. 30.

“Any gap in services provided to the Afloat Operations Program is unacceptable because of the severe risk it would represent to MSC global logistics operations,” the agency wrote in it justification document. The program supports networks and communications between 170 MSC ships and Defense Department ashore command and control infrastructure.

Disruptions in service could affect the ability of ships to receive tasks from the National Command Authority and the ability to communicate ship positions, status of cargo, personnel or safety issues.

So, obviously, the extensions are needed.

I have no idea who is right or wrong here, but the document is almost comical. Given the level of detail, I can’t help but feel that MSC is frustrated with the whole process.

One bright note is that SRA’s pricing on the extension is lower than the pricing in the original contract. So, at least MSC is reaping some savings.

Unfortunately, the document ends on a down note:

“In the future, MSC will consider building additional time into its procurement timeframes to account for multiple rounds of GAO bid protests.”

That’s a sad but accurate commentary on today’s market.