SRA prevails in protest battle with SAIC

SRA International will hang onto its work with the Military Sealift Command after prevailing in a contest of dueling bid protests with SAIC.

The battle between SRA International and Science Applications International Corp. apparently is over as the Government Accountability Office has ruled against SAIC’s bid protest.

I told the story about these two Top 100 companies squaring off over a Military Sealift Command contract in a blog earlier this summer.

SRA was the incumbent on the contract but lost the recompete to SAIC in May 2012. They filed a protest and the command pulled back the award to take a corrective action because of issues with cost evaluations. They issued a new solicitation in August 2012.

This time SRA won the competition and SAIC filed its own protest. Earlier this month GAO rejected SAIC’s protest and the award to SRA stands.

According to the GAO ruling, SAIC objected to the agency’s cost realism evaluation of its proposal. They didn’t like the way the Navy adjusted labor rates and claimed that the Navy didn’t conduct meaningful discussions with respect to SAIC’s costs.

The company also objected to the Navy failing to downgrade SRA’s technical proposal in light of adjustments to SRA’s proposed costs.

“We have considered all of SAIC’s various arguments…and find that none provide a basis on which to sustain the protest,” GAO wrote in its decision.

So SRA hangs onto its work with a $56.5 million bid, which the Navy adjusted to $74.4 million to reflect current labor rates.

A couple things are interesting to me. One is that the protests resulted in two contract extensions for SRA as the Military Sealift Command needed coverage for the networks and communications between its 170 ships and the Defense Department’s ashore command and control infrastructure.

The second was the acknowledgement in the command’s justification for an extension of the delays the protests caused. The command said that in the future it needs to account for such delays when it creates the timeline for its procurements.

So while GAO’s decision allows the new contract to move forward, the reality remains that bid protests slow things down. That’s a shame but probably inevitable.

You can look at bid protests a few different ways:

  • Protesters are sore losers.
  • Companies game the system to hang on to work they rightly lost.
  • Companies fight back because of agency procurement mistakes.

And guess what? I think all three of those are correct. You can find protests that fit any of those descriptions. But I’d also bet that the companies fighting back because they feel wronged are more common than the protestors who are sore losers or trying to game the system.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems with procurement, but the fix – more training and professional development and more people working contracts – will take years to have an impact.

Until then, bid protests remain a vital check and balance for a struggling procurement system.