Tough fight awaits FedBizOpps protestors

Two companies claiming the General Services Administration unfairly
evaluated their bids for the right to upgrade could be facing an
uphill battle, according to a procurement expert.    

Chip Mather, a principal with Acquisition Solutions Inc. of



, and a former Air Force IT acquisition chief, said the Government
Accountability Office traditionally sides with agencies when they choose a
technically acceptable but lowest priced bid ? as was the case with GSA's
decision last month to award a $17.4 million contract to Symplicity Corp. of



"The government has significant discretion in using the best-value
award process," Mather said. "The bidders will have to justify why GSA
should pay more, even if it is for more capabilities. It is like deciding
whether to buy a Chevy or Cadillac."

Information Sciences Corp. of

Silver Spring


, and Devis Corp. of



, protested to GAO on the grounds that GSA did not follow the criteria in the
request for proposals.

"After a year of review, GSA has decided to go with the low-price heart
surgeon, which was inconsistent with what the solicitation called for," said
William Shook, a partner with Preston Gates Ellis LLP and legal counsel to ISC.

GAO has until Oct. 3 to rule on the complaint. GSA then must decide
whether to follow the audit agency's recommendations, one of which could be
reopening the contract to bidders.

"We are in receipt of the protest. It is not proper for us to discuss a
pending legal matter," a GSA spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, FedBizOpps, which is the sole source of every RFP worth more
than $25,000 from more than 100 federal agencies, will continue under the
previous contract held by Science Applications International Corp. of

San Diego

, awarded in November 2000. ISC is a subcontractor to SAIC on the current

Symplicity, which also developed the online application for the Small
Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development program, beat out three
other small-business bidders for the small-business set-aside contract. The deal
is for three years, with five one-year options. A GSA spokeswoman said GSA's
Integrated Acquisition Environment project team will manage the transition to
Symplicity's system, which will likely be before Dec. 31.

"Symplicity is excited to have won," a company spokesman said.
"This is a great opportunity to really enhance the federal procurement process
and make it easier for vendors and buyers."

The spokesman would not comment on the protest or the company's
proposed enhancements.

Symplicity's bid was technically acceptable and was more than $30
million cheaper than the highest bid, sources said.

But because GSA evaluated Symplicity to be technically acceptable, the
protesters must show that GSA abused its discretion, and that is difficult,
Mather said.

"If GSA followed the rules and regulations, then it is a matter of
discretion and I would agree with GSA," he said. "I would rather defend the
technically acceptable, but less expensive, award than a more expensive one."

GSA also might have been constrained by the amount of money it has to
spend on the FedBizOpps upgrade. Sources familiar with FedBizOpps said agencies
fund the site through the Integrated Acquisition Environment e-government
project, and funds are limited because of the other systems on IAE's wish

Once GAO resolves the protest, GSA officials expect the new vendor to
integrate with the Central Contractor Registration, a list of all federal
contractors; interface with government back-office contract writing systems;
archive procurement documents; improve access and retrieval capabilities, and
system security and data integrity; and provide technical support. n

Jason Miller is assistant managing editor for news at
Government Computer News. He can be reached at

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