3 lessons from both SAIC v. Leidos Air Force protests

Science Applications International and Leidos have each filed protests over Air Force awards the other won. Both tell a lot about how the companies have changed since they split and more about how task orders suffer from a lack of transparency.

A few days ago, we reported that Leidos was protesting a $728.2 million Air Force cloud migration contract that went to Science Applications International Corp.

Now it's SAIC protesting a $445.4 million award to Leidos, also with the Air Force.

There are several things to talk about with these two protests.

First, SAIC is claiming in its protest that the evaluation was done improperly. SAIC says that if the Air Force had conducted a proper evaluation, then it would have picked SAIC over Leidos.

Pretty typical stuff for protests. Basically, it is a challenge that the Air Force didn’t follow the evaluation criteria set out in the solicitation.

The five-year contract covers classified and unclassified IT services to the Air Force in the Washington, D.C. region at sites such as Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling and the Pentagon. There were three bidders, so theoretically there could be another protest.

A decision from the Government Accountability Office is expected by Jan. 2.

The second thing about these protests is that tomorrow (Sept. 27) will mark the sixth anniversary of when the "old" Science Applications International Corp. renamed itself Leidos and spun off a large chunk of what became the current SAIC.

At the time, the two companies were very different. Leidos kept the solutions-focused business, while SAIC would be the services business.

They were not competitors right out of the gate. In fact, these are the first protests that they have lodged against each other and illustrate how much both companies have evolved in the last six years.

Leidos then acquired the IT services business from Lockheed Martin. The contract SAIC won with the Air Force was incumbent work Leidos picked up with the Lockheed transaction.

SAIC also has used the acquisitions of Scitor and Engility to change, building an intelligence business as well as adding space capabilities. SAIC hasn't abandoned technical services by any stretch, but that isn't their main calling card any longer.

My expectation is that Leidos and SAIC will compete against each other more often going forward

The close timing of the two protests is interesting but it is just coincidence that the awards happened so close together and that the Air Force is the customer. These are not tit-for-tat protests.

A third thing about these protests has nothing to do with Leidos and SAIC, but everything to do with a lack of transparency in how government procurements are conducted.

I’ve complained about this before but I need to complain again.

These two contracts were awarded as task orders under contract vehicles. Combined they are worth nearly $1.2 billion.

Yet, prior to award they have not appeared on FBO.gov or any other public website. Only the award to Leidos appeared on the Defense Department’s contracts page earlier this month after the Air Force picked the company.

But that was after award. There was no advance notice or request for information that I could find.

The only people who could see that a task order was out for bid were the companies that held positions on those task orders.

We see it time and again. One reason we follow protests so closely is because often only when a company files a protest do we get any knowledge that an award was made.

Again as both Leidos and SAIC protests illustrate, these are large awards.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act has a provision that allows challenges to task orders if they are outside the scope of the parent contract.

But how can you challenge something if you don’t know it is happening?

I come back to the size of these task orders. It is now not unheard of for there to be $1 billion-plus task orders. These come with little to no public disclosure.

I know we want the procurement process to move more efficiently. To be more like the commercial market. Those are noble goals.

But these are public dollars and the lack of transparency hinders competition and innovation.

Plus, it just isn’t right.