AT&T can tout FBI wireless contract after multiple protests

The third time was a charm for AT&T, which won an FBI wireless services contract after twice losing to Verizon and going through multiple rounds of protests.

Verizon has lost its fight to provide the FBI with wireless voice and data telecommunications services and I can only imagine the frustration the company must be feeling.

The frustration likely stems from the fact that Verizon won the blanket purchase agreement twice when competing against AT&T. Verizon first won on Sept. 30, 2019 and AT&T then protested, which led the FBI to pull back the award to Verizon to re-evaluate proposals.

Verizon won again on Feb. 21, 2020, and again AT&T filed a protest. On April 2, the Government Accountability Office dismissed the protest when the FBI took another corrective action and said it planned to amend the solicitation and ask for revised bids.

But the third time was a charm for AT&T because on July 21, the FBI awarded the BPA to AT&T. Verizon filed its protest on July 31.

In its protest, Verizon raised multiple arguments:

  • AT&T failed to comply with the solicitations pricing requirements.
  • The FBI conduced a flawed technical evaluation.
  • The FBI also evaluated the quotations unequally.

GAO rejected all of those arguments, saying they were not supported by the procurement record or were not required in the solicitation.

The pricing requirement argument is perhaps the most interesting because of the wide gap in the prices proposed by the two companies. AT&T’s price was $91.9 million, while Verizon pitched a $146.6 million.

Verizon argued that AT&T could not have included the price for all the requirements, which included hardware, cellular service and new devices every two years. The FBI needed to conduct a price realism evaluation, Verizon argued. But GAO ruled the solicitation didn’t require that kind of analysis.

The FBI conducted a price reasonableness evaluation, which was required. Price reasonableness focuses on whether the pricing is too high, not too low, GAO wrote.

“Arguments that the agency did not perform an appropriate analysis to determine whether prices are too low, such that there may be a risk of poor performance, concern price realism not price reasonableness; price realism is not required (or permitted) to be evaluated by the agency unless the solicitation provides for such an analysis,” GAO said.

The FBI could not conduct a price realism analysis because it wasn’t part of the solicitation, GAO said.

GAO also rejected Verizon’s claims around some of the technical requirements the company says AT&T did not meet. Verizon and the FBI disagreed on the meaning of the requirement that the devices not be labeled for government use.

The AT&T products had a FirstNet label screen. Verizon said this was a violation. The FBI said the language only applied to the labeling of the package the device was shipped in.

GAO said both interpretations were reasonable but because Verizon didn’t question the solicitation language prior to submitting its bid, it was too late to raise it after award.

Verizon also claimed it was treated differently than AT&T because of the way its proposal was evaluated and because AT&T was awarded strengths it was not. But the FBI told GAO that the different evaluation results “stemmed from clear differences in the two vendors proposed capabilities.”

With that, GAO denied the overall protest and AT&T perseverance paid off.