Infotech and the law: One decision, a wave of contracting consequence

Devon Hewitt

A recent decision by the Government Accountability Office reflects the federal government's scrutiny and continued oversight of purchases from General Services Administration Schedule contracts.

In American Systems Consulting Inc., B-294644 (Dec. 13, 2004), the protester challenged the award of a blanket purchase agreement to my client, ManTech Advanced Systems International Inc., under a request for quotations seeking systems applications and support services. The award followed a competition among GSA Schedule contract holders.

The RFQ detailed the job and education requirements for the various personnel the agency needed. It instructed vendors to propose a labor category from their respective GSA Schedule contracts that "most nearly equated" to each job.

American Systems Consulting and ManTech responded, both proposing labor categories from their Schedule 70 IT contracts. The agency awarded the work to ManTech based on the company's higher technical ratings and far-lower proposed price.

American Systems Consulting complained that awarding the contract to ManTech violated law and regulation because the award was for work outside the scope of ManTech's GSA schedule contract. Specifically, American Systems Consulting alleged that the labor category positions ManTech identified as "most nearly equating" with the jobs set forth in the RFQ did not include all requisite background and experience as detailed.

American Systems Consulting conceded that the people proposed by ManTech to fill the positions did have the requisite background and experience. But, the company argued, the requested work fell outside the scope of this particular schedule contract held by ManTech.

GAO sided with American Systems Consulting, at least with respect to one of the RFQ jobs, the "user support [customer assistance] manager." The RFQ indicated that this job was to provide leadership and support of help-desk personnel.

ManTech identified the "task manager" labor category in its GSA Schedule 70 contract as that most nearly equating the user support manager job. The schedule contract described the task manager as having duties, including performing "complex evaluation" of procedures and directing "specifications and tasks" to be performed by team members. The description, however, did not use the term "help desk."

GAO held that, because the task manager job description did not state that the task manager performed the specific help-desk or system-support services described in the RFQ, the award was for work outside the scope of ManTech's schedule contract. GAO also found that the task manager job did not mandate the requisite years of experience in help-desk support.

Here's why I disagree with this decision. It appears to stand for the proposition that, for a GSA Schedule buy to be considered in scope, all labor category position descriptions in the contract must be nearly identical to the agencies' RFQ descriptions, although there is no dispute that the agency is getting IT services as opposed to, say, prison services under an IT schedule contract.

The decision also ignores the fact that ManTech's labor category position descriptions, like those on all GSA Schedule contracts, are purposely general so they can meet the needs of more than one agency or specific RFQ.

The decision seems to contradict the very purpose of the GSA Schedule IT contract, which is to give the federal government access to commercial products and services as opposed to government specific items. As a result, this decision may restrict the flexibility normally associated with GSA schedule contracting.

Devon Hewitt is a partner of Government Practices at ShawPittman in McLean, Va. She can be reached at devon.hewitt@shaw

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