Yuma protest battle at five years and counting

The fight for a $400 million Army test and evaluation contract at Yuma Proving Ground has lasted more than five years with no end in sight.

A contract worth at least $411 million to support the Army at the Yuma Proving Ground has turned into a poster child for why many people think bid protests have gotten out of control.

The solicitation for the contract to provide specialized personnel and support for military testing was released on May 16, 2013. Yes, more than five years ago.

Since then, Jacobs Technology has won the contract three times, the first in 2014. The incumbent, Trax International, has filed three protests at the Government Accountability Office. The Army has taken three corrective actions.

Both Trax and Jacobs have filed lawsuits at U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The court ruled against Jacobs and offered mixed results for Trax.

But the bottom line here is that the court sent the case back to the Army to make a fourth award and this time the contract went to Trax.

And now, you guessed it, Jacobs has filed its own protest.

So what is going on here?

Frankly, I’ve read the filings and I’m not exactly sure.

The contract covers a wide range of test support services for evaluating weapons systems including munitions of all calibers, artillery, aircraft armament systems, smart munitions, and other military equipment. The idea is to test the systems under realistic conditions and take measurements and observations of their performance.

Trax has been the incumbent since at least 2008, according to Deltek. During all of this, Trax has continued to do the work under extensions of the incumbent contract.

Now there are some who will say that Trax’s protests are just an incumbent’s attempt to hang onto a contract as long as possible.

But each of Trax’s protests at GAO resulted in the Army pulling the award back from Jacobs and taking a corrective action. That tells me that the Army was making errors.

According to the Court of Federal Claims ruling, Jacobs and Trax had the two highest-rated proposals. Jacobs bid of $411.7 million was lower than Trax’s bid. The price of Trax’s bid is redacted from the public version of the court’s decision.

The court's decision describes the various protests by Trax and the Army’s attempts to address those concerns. A lot of questions were raised about labor hours and staffing. Jacobs also was dinged because it changed the hard copies of its oral presentation. Jacobs said the changes were not substantial but the court disagreed.

Through all of the corrective actions and their aftermath, the Army issued amendments to the solicitation multiple times. And in one case, rescinded earlier amendments.

The court's ruling in favor of Trax dealt with the company's attempt to get more information or discovery from the Army so it could have a more complete record of the Army’s evaluation process.

Among other things, Jacobs wanted an injunction on the Army to stop it from carrying out its third corrective action. That action in essence would force Jacobs to try to win the contract a fourth time. The court ruled against Jacobs and now the company has lost the contract, resulting in its own protest.

What happens from here will be interesting. Jacobs cannot ask GAO to re-litigate issues covered by the court. The court is a higher authority than GAO. So its protest has to cover new ground.

GAO has until Sept. 27 to render a decision, unless of course the Army takes another corrective action.

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