GAO bans company from filing bid protests

Frustrated by hundreds of protests that lacked any merit and that seemed bent on gumming up the works at GAO, the agency has taken the rare step of banning a company from filing any protests for the next year.

The Government Accountability Office has taken the rare step of banning a company from filing protests with GAO for 12 months and perhaps beyond.

Latvian Connections, a small business based in Healdsburg, Calif., and Kuwait City, Kuwait, has filed 150 protests in fiscal 2016. So far, 131 have been closed with one denial, and 130 dismissed because Latvian had no standing to file a protest. In the last five years or so, the company has filed 296 protests.

I’ve reached out to the company and its founder Keven Barnes for comment, but no response so far. In reading the GAO decision, the agency paints a strange tale of a company that seems bent on protesting anything and everything it can.

Others have described Barnes as being driven by a belief that small business are routinely discriminated against and government corruption funnels work to large businesses when it should be going to small businesses.

The volume of protests that lack standing seems to have pushed GAO to the edge and the one that finally seems to have shoved GAO over the edge involves a task order won by ManTech International.

Latvian filed a protest, but here are two problems:

  • The task order was worth less than $10 million, and GAO can only hear protests if the task order is worth more than $10 million. The ManTech task order was worth $1.3 million.
  • Latvian wasn’t a prime contract holder on the contract, known as the Joint Interoperability Test Command Test and Evaluation Mission Support Services contract or JITC Omnibus/MSS.

But as part of the protest process, GAO informed DISA of the protest, and DISA requested that the protest be dismissed because GAO has no jurisdiction to hear a protest (see note 1 above) and that Latvian isn’t considered an “interested party” because it isn’t on the contract to start with (note 2).

Latvian’s response went on for 25 pages, but they failed to mention or respond to DISA’s request for dismissal. The company didn’t dispute that the task order is worth less than $10 million. The company didn’t argue that it had standing to compete for the work under the contract.

GAO describes Latvian’s response as “25 pages of excerpts cut and pasted from a variety of documents, none of which addresses the agency’s contentions.”

In a footnote, GAO says that the ManTech task order was awarded in January 2013 and completed in January 2016, four months before Latvian filed its protest.

As odd as that may seem, it is a pattern that GAO has seen repeated time again with Latvian’s protests.

Protests, both post award and pre-award, have been lodged against a wide range of agencies: the Defense Department, the Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, the Coast Guard, the Defense Logistics Agency, DISA, Veterans Affairs, DHS, National Park Service, State Department, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Interior Department.

The goods and services also represent a wide array: engineering, cellphone services, housekeeping, landscaping, antennas, portable generators, airfield repair, barges, and industrial-size frequency converters, to name a few.

Latvian’s two most common allegations are that the government agency failed to set the work aside for a small business and that the agency failed to advertise the work on the website.

But, according to GAO, Latvian also in recent months began accusing GAO and officials at other agencies of being white collar criminals that were violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Other accusations accused federal officials of engaging in treason and covering up human trafficking and slavery.

GAO also says that Latvian Connection created a second company, Blue Camel Consulting that would file protests on behalf of other companies for a $5,000 fee. For protests that involved a Defense Department agency, it offered a 20 percent discount.

On one level, the protests by Latvian seem like a joke, but no one at GAO is laughing.

“The effect of Latvian Connection’s protests is to hector the acquiring activities--and our forum--with a stream of protests that divert our collective time and resources,” GAO wrote.

Agency attorneys have prepared responses to Latvian’s protests and GAO in turn has processed the filings, reviewed the facts and law, and responded “meaningfully and equitably to Latvian Connection’s contention,” GAO wrote.

GAO also wrote that “Latvian repeatedly fails to engage with the issues. Instead, the company simply files a lengthy, often unrelated, harangue that does not address the threshold issues that must be answered by any forum as part of its review.”

Latvian is abusing the process, which undermines its effectiveness and integrity, GAO said in banning the company for the next year.

A year from now, the company can file a protest again, but it has to show that the contract in question violated procurement laws or regulations and that Latvian was in a position to bid on the contract. The company also must be willing to engage on the issues it raises in its protest.

I can only imagine the groans at GAO a year from now when the first filing from Latvian rolls in.