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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

CACI-SAIC protest reveals tight competition for NASA work

Often when I read a bid protest decision, it is easy to spot the flaw.

If it’s a denied protest, the fatal mistake by the protester is generally is what gets highlighted by the Government Accountability Office in their decision.

If the protest is sustained, it’s usually obvious what the agency did wrong.

Sometimes, I even see a flaw in GAO’s logic, which is always fun to point out.

But in the recent decision denying CACI International’s protest of a NASA contract that went to Science Applications International Corp., I’m hard pressed to find the fatal flaw.

CACI and SAIC were competing for a $450 million NASA contract to support business and mission-supporting platforms, applications and infrastructure. SAIC was the incumbent and won the contract again.

CACI filed a protest questioning the evaluation and the source selection decision. GAO sided with NASA and let the SAIC win stand.

As I read through the decision, I was struck at what seems to be a very fine line between winning and losing.

The price between the two bids is less than $4 million. CACI’s bid was $451.4 million, compared to $447.8 million for SAIC.

CACI’s past performance was rated with a high level of confidence, and SAIC’s was rated very high level of confidence. SAIC got its higher rating because it’s the incumbent.

CACI’s mission suitability score was just 10 points higher than SAIC’s score. CACI was 962, SAIC was 952, out of a scale of 1,000.

There was nothing in the description of CACI’s bid that indicated that NASA was worried the company would fail to deliver on the contract if it was picked as the winner.

The same for SAIC.

There was just one area that seemed to tip the scales in favor of SAIC. NASA had a requirement for the bidders to show how they would reduce costs as the contract moved forward. Here, SAIC was more aggressive.

It was odd that in one part of the evaluation process, SAIC’s aggressiveness was considered a risk, but not a significant one by the source evaluation board. But the source selection authority found the aggressive approach to reducing costs a discriminator when compared to CACI. Other areas of strength made up the difference for the source selection authority.

I think you could argue the source selection authority’s decision in either direction, and I think that’s the salient point for me. These two bids were so close and of such quality that the difference maker was nearly an intangible.

It really came down to NASA being more comfortable with the incumbent. And CACI tried to argue that the incumbency shouldn’t have carried such weight, but GAO rejected that argument.

I think if NASA had picked CACI as the winner and SAIC had protested, GAO would have ruled in CACI’s favor. It looks like it was that close. This one could have easily gone the other way. That's not much comfort for CACI, I know, but they have nothing to feel bad about.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 28, 2016 at 9:27 AM

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