CNSI navigates protest-filled path to Energy contract

Commercial companies that are eyeing hungrily the federal marketplace, thinking it's a good place for steady work, should read this cautionary tale.

CNS Inc., a Rockville, Md. information technology services and solutions company, announced in February that it won an $81 million contract from the National Nuclear Security Administration, a part of the Energy Department. The company will team with NCI Information Systems Inc., McLean, Va., to provide a wide range of support services across the NNSA complex over the next five years.

But CNSI actually won this contract ? or essentially one much like it ? in the summer of 2001. The company endured two protests, a cancellation and a stop-work order before finally beginning the work last month.

When CNSI won the contract in August 2001, incumbent contractor SCI Consulting Inc. of Alexandria, Va., filed a protest of the procurement, said Matthew Hoffman, corporate counsel for CNSI. While the protest was under way, the Energy Department decided to cancel the procurement action, leaving SCI in place, he said.

Then, in May 2002, the department issued a new request for proposals that was very similar to the original project. CNSI again bid on it, and in October 2002 was selected for the contract.

SCI again protested, filing protests with both the Small Business Administration and the General Accounting Office, Hoffman said. This time a stop-work order was issued by the Energy Department while the protests were resolved, he said.

The GAO dismissed the protest first, and then SBA dismissed it in January, Hoffman said. The Energy Department lifted the stop-work order effective Jan. 17.

Perhaps out of an abundance of caution, CNSI did not announce the contract award for almost a month.

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