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Misunderstandings nix CSRA protest of $100M DHS contract

It seems CSRA Inc. and the Homeland Security Department had a fundamental misunderstanding over the company’s proposal to provide Agile development support to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The result was a lost contract and then a lost bid protest before the Government Accountability Office.

At first blush, it would seem that CSRA had a strong case. Its bid was $89.6 million compared to the $107.2 million bid by the winner, Vencore. The contract is a task order under the EAGLE II vehicle and is for support of joint engineering teams working on Agile development services to sustain applications used in the agency’s core business areas.

Both companies shared similar scores for the non-price factors. Both were rated with High Confidence for corporate experience and oral presentation.

CSRA, which during the bidding for this contract was still part of Computer Sciences Corp., scored high confidence for technical approach and some confidence for management approach, while Vencore was scored some confidence for technical approach and high confidence for management approach.

But it was that management approach that hurt CSRA when the agency did its tradeoff analysis that led the source selection authority to pick Vencore’s higher bid as the best value for the government.

According to the GAO decision, DHS had concerns with CSRA’s thinking around when to use Scrum and Kanban, two software development processes widely used in Agile development, and CSRA’s use of subject matter experts.

The source selection authority also though that Vencore’s technical approach could have received a higher rating.

That combination gave him more confidence in Vencore and justified the higher price.

For example, DHS didn’t like that CSRA’s proposal relied on using their own SMEs when the government’s product owners weren’t available. The solicitation said that the product owner would be an agency employee who would specify high level requirements to the Agile team. The product owner would work with the other government employees and contractors.

The solicitation also identified a risk to the approach and asked the bidders to propose a mitigation approach. The risk is that the product owner may not always be available due to other pressing priorities.

CSRA’s mitigation approach was to use its own subject matter experts.

But DHS doubted the responsiveness of such an approach. CSRA was pre-supposing that the product owner wouldn’t be available, and that CSRA would use its own SME.

“What was lacking in the proposed approach was collaboration with the government to find the best solution, which might not be using a contractor SME,” GAO quotes DHS as saying.

The SME approach CSRA proposed also risks making the feedback cycles longer.

CSRA said that using its SME was not the only action the company would use and it pointed to other areas in its proposal that talk about collaboration, but it wasn’t enough to convince GAO. CSRA only identifies one specific approach and that is using the company’s SMEs.

The company also was dinged by DHS and GAO for how it described when it would use Scrum and Kanban. CSRA said it would pick between the two based on the predictability of work. But this caused concerns because CSRA wasn’t considering the frequency of work as one of the factors when deciding which software development approach to use.

CSRA argued that its approach uses a widely recognized metric and that frequency of work is part of that metric. “There was no rational justification for the Agency’s criticism of [CSRA’s} approach for using predictability of work as a guide for deciding between Kanban and Scrum,” the company wrote to GAO.

But GAO agreed with DHS in that CSRA’s proposal didn’t clearly convey that it would consider both predictability and frequency.

It was those things that eroded the source selection authorities confidence, and given that he also felt Vencore’s technical score could easily have been higher, he went with Vencore.

And GAO agreed that the DHS’ decision to pick Vencore was reasonable.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 11, 2016 at 12:01 PM


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