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IBM loses Accenture protest but investigation still looms

IBM has lost another protest to Accenture but it might be premature for Accenture to declare victory.

Big Blue was the incumbent on the Transportation Security Agency’s so-called "Secure Flight" contract.  IBM battled Accenture and four other companies for the recompete.

Secure Flight is a TSA program to prescreen passengers and identify them as either low-risk or high-risk with respect to aviation security.

TSA picked Accenture because it had a lower price and a higher evaluation on the most important evaluation factor -- the technical approach. Accenture’s bid was $47.8 million, compared to IBM’s $49.6 million.

But Accenture’s technical approach was rated “outstanding”, compared to IBM’s “good.” For the management approach, IBM received a score of “outstanding” while Accenture was rated “good.” For corporate experience, both were rated “outstanding,” according to the Government Accountability Office decision.

So that’s two “outstandings” each and one “good” each, but the solicitation said that the technical approach carried more weight than the management and corporate experience categories combined.

IBM filed its protest and most of its claims fall into traditional buckets. They complained about how the evaluations were conducted. They questioned the reasonableness of the decisions and whether they were consistent with what was described in the solicitation.

GAO rejected these arguments in denying the protest, saying that TSA evaluators and the source selection authority had documented their decision and all seemed reasonable.

But it is the last part of their protest that gives IBM some hope and is the most serious allegation. The company says that an employee of one of its subcontractors obtained IBM’s bid and proposal information from a restricted TSA website and provided it to Accenture. This would be a violation of the Procurement Integrity Act.

GAO dismissed this claim because TSA said it is conducting an investigation and it hasn’t been completed yet. GAO said it was premature to make a ruling and it dismissed that portion of IBM’s protest.

A couple things can happen from here. If TSA finds no violation, then Accenture keeps the contract and IBM is out. But IBM could refile its protest with GAO.

If a violation is found, TSA will take some sort of action, such as canceling the contract or starting a new competition.

If IBM is unsatisfied with the TSA actions, it still come back and file a new protest with GAO.

For now, IBM is continuing to work on Secure Flight while TSA investigates the allegation. After that, we’ll have to wait and see.

If IBM ultimately loses the contract, it is the second one Accenture has wrested away from the company. In January, GAO denied IBM’s protest of the Data Center Support Services contract.

Accenture won that contract with a bid of $307.2 million, compared to IBM’s $139.3 million bid. Homeland Security Department officials raised concerns about IBM’s low price and a lack of detail in its proposal.

GAO also rejected IBM’s claim that there was an organizational conflict of interest involving one of Accenture’s teammates.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 13, 2018 at 1:43 PM


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