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Nick Wakeman

Conflict of interest argument falls flat at GAO

Two subsidiaries of top 20 government contractors have been battling for a $286.8 million Veterans Affairs contract, with one company slinging accusations that the other had a conflict of interest and shouldn’t be allowed to bid, much less win the contract.

Systems Made Simple, a part of Lockheed Martin Corp., complained to the Government Accountability Office after ASM Research, a part of Accenture, won a VA contract for help desk services for its National Services Desk.

The conflict of interest accusation came about because Accenture had done some work earlier studying the National Service Desk and how to improve it. Systems Made Simple argued that ASMR had unequal access to information because VA used that study to help develop the solicitation for the contract ASMR later won.

But GAO rejected that argument for several reasons. First, Accenture put in a mitigation plan when it won the work for the study. And second, the Accenture study wasn’t used to develop the solicitation. In fact, VA told GAO they had to hire another company after Accenture because “it found the earlier Accenture study to be so generic in nature.”

It was McKinsey & Co. that did the second study and analyzed a draft performance work statement as well as making recommendations on the structure of the contract.

VA also verified with Accenture that its mitigation plan was still in place before allowing it to bid on the contract. The VA contracting officer took other steps, including verifying the scope of the National Services Desk work, looking at the products Accenture provided VA as part of that contract and reviewing the mitigation plan.

GAO also dinged Systems Made Simple because they didn’t offer any specific facts that showed a conflict of interest.

“The contracting officer reasonably found that Accenture did not have the ability to shape the playing field of later procurements on behalf of ASMR,” GAO wrote

Systems Made Simple also argued that its technical evaluation should have been graded as Good instead of Acceptable. But GAO rejected this saying that even if Systems Made Simple had a Good score, ASMR was still ranked higher and would have been the overall best value.

Another factor that made winning the protest an uphill battle for Systems Made Simple is that they weren’t the second place team. An unnamed company (who didn’t protest) was higher ranked than Systems Made Simple.

VA presented that fact as an argument that System Made Simple’s protest should be dismissed, but GAO rejected that argument and proceeded with the full protest process.

The result was the same, however, with GAO upholding the decision to pick ASMR the winner of the contract.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 08, 2016 at 10:21 AM


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