An apparent conflict-of-interest on the part of L3Harris Technologies led the Government Accountability Office to recommend the Navy conduct an independent review of the requirements for its Next Generation Jammer.
An apparent conflict of interest on the part of the winning company led the Government Accountability Office to recommend the Navy conduct an independent review of the requirements contract for its Next Generation Jammer.
We earlier reported that the Navy was conducting a review of its decision to pick L3Harris over Northrop Grumman for the $500 million contract, but details did not become available until GAO released a public version of its decision Friday (today).
A second decision for the classified portion of the jammer project went against Northrop. That decision hasn’t been released and may not given its nature.
Northrop Grumman and L3Harris were in a fly-off of sorts to test concepts for the Next Generation Jammer, which will sit as a pod under the EA-18 Growler aircraft. The technology allows the craft to engage in electronic warfare.
The publicly-released GAO decision includes allegations Northrop raised about a Navy employee that developed specifications for the jammer at the same time he negotiated with L3Harris for a job there.
Northrop argued the Navy did nothing to mitigate this conflict, and that L3Harris should be disqualified and found ineligible for the award.
The Navy apparently admitted the person was negotiating for a job with L3Harris as he was developing specifications for the contract. But the Navy argued the situation had no impact on the decision to choose L3Harris.
The Navy said that person had a limited role developing the contract specifications and was interviewing for a job in a different L3Harris division, not the one bidding on the jammer.
But GAO disagreed and found that this person’s actions “created the appearance of an unfair competitive advantage in favor of L3Harris and that the agency’s consideration of the conflict was unreasonable,” the audit agency wrote in its ruling.
That person worked for the Navy from 2013 to 2019 as an electrical engineer and was familiar with both companies' designs for the jammer. He even attended working group and design status meetings with both contractors. He helped develop the evaluation criteria.
When offered the job with L3Harris’ space business, he went to the Navy’s ethics counsel and was told no post-government employment ethics opinion was needed. But another Navy employee talked to him about recusing himself.
After accepting the job, he was told to have no more contact with either team but did continue to work on the solicitation's specs. He left a few weeks later.
GAO's decision describes how deeply involved he was with the development of the solicitation and in evaluating prototypes both companies were working on in the fly-off portion of the competition.
Usually when GAO finds that this kind of conflict of interest, it recommends the contractor be eliminated from the competition. But GAO said it isn’t “feasible or desirable” to eliminate L3Harris in this case.
Instead, GAO recommends an independent review and then for discussions to reopen with the bidders. But if the review finds that the Navy’s requirements have changed, then the service needs to ask for revised proposals.
A simpler solution could be to just continue the fly-off. L3Harris was only tapped to build eight jammer pods as a step toward a full order more than 150.
Why not award a contract to Northrop and let them build eight, then evaluate them against each other?