Protest raises questions for Alliant 2
Trouble is brewing for the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Alliant 2 procurement. GSA opened the door to teaming for small businesses (SB), satisfying SB complaints that they could not meet the rigid relevant experience and past performance standards requiring prime contracts only. Meanwhile, mid-tier companies of smaller size are finding it impossible to compete on Alliant 2 Unrestricted.
GSA allows small business to team on either the Unrestricted or SB tracks. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, SEC. 867. JOINT VENTURING AND TEAMING, requires agencies to evaluate the experience and past performance of a small business offeror’s subcontractors. Small businesses may bid either GSA Alliant 2 track by forming a Contracting Teaming Arrangement (CTA) as a joint venture, partnership, or prime-subcontractor relationship.
According to the GAO, a protest was filed on August 10, 2016 by Enterprise Information Services Inc., Protest # B-413559.1.A decision is due no later than Nov. 18. Thus far, GSA has not changed the proposal due date. This protest is likely the first of many, reflecting mid-tier contractor concerns about their inability to compete successfully.
Alliant 2 issues
While small businesses have numerous options, smaller large businesses, or mid-tiers, are voicing complaints that could result in a pre-award protest. They see the tide turning: Agency contracting officers using only preferred GWACs, leaving those companies that fail to win awards out in the cold. What are some of the Alliant 2 issues?
NAICS code: The NAICS code for the SB track is for a $27.5 million size standard. Many mid-tiers are arguing GSA should select a NAICS code that has a size standard of 1,000 employees, thus allowing them to compete on the SB track. Proposing on Alliant 2 SB opens up options for teaming with other small businesses who have prime contracts that meet the RFP’s size, breadth, relevancy, and recency requirements, thus helping to achieve a higher and more competitive score.
Number of awards: The Unrestricted track will result in 60 awards plus awards to any bidders whose score ties the 60th bidder as compared to the 80 awards plus ties on the SB track. Considering there are 57 current Alliant Unrestricted contract holders and that many of the current Alliant SB contract holders are successful graduates to large business status, few openings for new companies are expected. The argument here is that GSA is limiting competition.
Evaluation approach: GSA will only open and review bids for the top 60 (plus ties) Unrestricted offers based on the self-scoring worksheets submitted. Smaller mid-tiers argue that it is impossible for them to achieve a high enough score to even have their proposals considered. Again, it appears to some bidders that GSA is limiting competition.
Grounds for pre-award protest
On what grounds could offerors make a pre-award protest? Protesters could argue that the technical or past performance evaluation is unreasonable, with unduly restrictive provisions. While GAO sustained only 12 percent of protests in fiscal 2015, that same year saw the highest bid protest effectiveness rate ever—45 percent for both pre- and post-award protests. Effectiveness means that the protestor obtained some sort of relief, either in the form of the protest being upheld, or the agency performing some sort of corrective action, thus delaying award. The recent successful pre-award protest against DISA for ENCORE III is an example of an effective protest in the current fiscal year.
Responses to the Alliant 2 Unrestricted track RFP are due Aug.29, while the Alliant 2 SB RFP response date has been extended to Sept. 12. Both RFPs have been subject to hundreds of industry questions and numerous special notices and amendments. This is despite the fact that GSA issued an RFI and two draft RFPs, responded to hundreds of industry comments, and held face-to-face meetings and two to three bidders’ conferences per track.
It appears no good deed goes unpunished, as a pre-award protests could result in lengthy award delays or corrective action in the form of a new RFP.
Lisa Pafe is a capture strategy and proposal development consultant and is vice president of Lohfeld Consulting. She can be reached at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com