The National Institutes of Health will have to change some requirements in the potential $50 billion CIO-SP4 IT products and services contract after a ruling against how the agency treated mentor-protege joint ventures.
The Government Accountability Office has told NIH's IT acquisition organization it is wrong to treat mentor-protégé joint ventures differently depending on whether there is a large business partner working with a small business.
Which means the potential $50 billion Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 4 contract for IT products and services has a longer way to go before awards can actually be made.
NIH's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center put limitations on the number of past performance examples that could be submitted by a large business mentor in a mentor-protégé joint venture that wanted to bid on the CIO-SP4 opportunity.
No such limits are placed on small business mentors.
CWS FMTI JV LLC filed a protest with GAO to challenge that limitation. Fusion Mastech is the small business in that venture, while the large business mentor is Computer World Services Corp.
GAO agreed, saying that NITAAC didn’t establish any reasoning for putting the limitation on experience examples for large business mentors.
NITAAC will now have to rework those requirements in the solicitation.
The mentor-protégé program is managed by the Small Business Administration through the Small Business Act. That law and implementing regulations do not distinguish between large business mentors and small business mentors. All the capabilities of the members of a joint venture -- large or small business members -- count as small business capabilities.
CWS FMTI JV argued that the limitations placed the large business mentor’s violated the SBA regulations.
GAO said that protestor is right:
“In light of the purpose of the mentor protégé joint venture program, we do not find that the agency explains why it has the discretion to competitively disfavor a mentor-protégé joint venture with a large business mentor as compared to all other small business offerors. We also do not find that the agency reasonably explains why it has the discretion to, in effect, favor mentor-protégé joint ventures with small business mentors over mentor-protégé joint ventures with large business mentors.”
If NITAAC amends the solicitation, it will need to provide bidders an opportunity to submit revised proposals.
CIO-SP4’s journey has been a troubled one and we haven’t even gotten to the awards yet. Multiple protests all throughout have largely focused on different aspects of how past performance has been counted and evaluated. Many of those protests have led NITAAC to take corrective actions and amend the solicitation.
There have been 24 total protests filed at GAO over this contract. All are resolved now, so there are no pending protests.
Everything is back in NITAAC’s court now. The big question is whether more amendments to the solicitation will trigger more protests, or if another flood of protests will come after awards are actually made.
The expectation was that NITAAC would make awards in February 2022. My prediction: the awards will be delayed. Stay tuned.