Failed FedBizOpps bidders file fourth protest

Losing vendors filed another protest ? their fourth in three years ? to contest the General Services Administration's third contract award to Symplicity to revamp, a federal procurement Web site. Experts and companies involved in the procurement said they were left scratching their heads at GSA's decision Sept. 28 to re-award a $17 million contract to Symplicity.

Devis, one of the three unsuccessful bidders, said GSA's decision may contradict an August 2006 ruling of the Court of Federal Claims. Devis said it will intervene in a protest filed by Information Sciences Corp., which alleges that GSA, once again, did not properly evaluate bids for the FedBizOpps contract.

Devis' lawyer Robert Ryland, a partner at Kirkland and Ellis, said given that GSA should have reconsidered its competitive range decision.

"In addition, GSA told Devis at its debriefing that contractor risk was not a determining factor in the award decision, despite the fact that a majority of the evaluation panel found the Symplicity proposal to be "unacceptable" and offering "little confidence" of successful performance," he added.

"The government still does not have a rational basis for awarding this contract or the procedure they followed where they chose not to hold discussions on proposals that were 2 1/2 years old," said Bill Shook, ISC's attorney and partner at Kirkpatrick and Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis. "We have a violation of the procurement regulations that requires you to establish a competitive range only if you hold discussions, and they did not do that."

A GSA spokesman defended the agency's decision to award the contract to Symplicity once again but would not answer specific questions about why GSA reached that conclusion.

"Evaluation panels review contract proposals and make nonbinding recommendations to contracting officials or Source Selection Authorities, who decide which offers represent the best value to American taxpayers while providing the services needed to fulfill the contracts," the spokesman said in an e-mail statement. "While the Court of Federal Claims found that GSA properly evaluated the vendors' offers, per the judge's direction, GSA appointed a new Source Selection Authority to review the technical and price evaluations and determined that Symplicity offered the best value for American taxpayers."

Some in government say ISC, the incumbent, has every incentive to lengthen the protest. But Shook said ISC offered to end its protest in May 2006 if GSA would select an independent third-party evaluator to make a final decision about the controversial procurement case. GSA did not accept that offer, Shook said.

ISC, Aquilent and Symplicity said they, too, have grown frustrated by the whole process.
A Symplicity spokesman said the government and its contractors have been affected by the neverending protests by ISC to run an "outdated system at a much higher cost."

The spokesman added that Symplicity's bid is low is because it is reusing existing components from systems it runs at colleges and universities, federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

Symplicity's bid of $17 million was well below the government's estimate of $52 million and below the average bid of the three others vendors, which was about $47 million. ISC and Devis point to that as another reason why GSA erred in its evaluations.

Peter Fogelsanger, director at Aquilent, said there are many questions surrounding Symplicity's proposal that still must be addressed.

He added that GSA could restart the process, but that would cost the government and industry a lot of money. Or, he added, the government could eliminate Symplicity from the competitive range and ask for a clarification from the other three.

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News and Federal Computer Week, 1105 Government Information Group publications.

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