WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Is the Coast Guard pushing a sole-source contract too far?

A case is brewing over at the Government Accountability Office that could provide insights into how government agencies exercise their authority to sole-source a contract.

SES Government Solutions has filed a protest over the Coast Guard’s decision to continue using Inmarsat to provide commercial satellite communication services for its cutters.

The Coast Guard is claiming the Federal Acquisition Regulation lets it use a sole-source contract when awarding the work to another company would result in unacceptable delays that would negatively impact its mission.

Generally, agencies publish what is known as a justification and authorization document that lays out its reasoning also provides how the agency will encourage competition in the future.

In this case, nothing has been published beyond a FedBizOpps notice that the award was going to Inmarsat.

In its protest, SES also argues that the Coast Guard already made a sole-source award to Inmarsat in 2017. The implication is that Coast Guard should have been able to develop a competition by this point.

And it is a bit of a head scratcher. Of course, I’m not an expert on satellite communications but I see a problem with the Coast Guard’s approach. They are buying a commercial service so there has to be more than one commercial provider. Why can’t they run a competition?

According to its website, SES has a fleet of 66 satellite fleet while Inmarsat has 13 that are in geostationary orbit. Both claim to have 99 percent or better global coverage.

Again, I’m no expert but you have two companies providing the seemingly the same service (maybe different technology) so why no competition?

Right now the Coast Guard isn’t saying much but eventually it will need to publish its justification document. That will give us more insights and will tell us if the Coast Guard is pushing the envelope and whether there are broader implications.

SES filed its protest on March 25. A decision from GAO is due by July 3.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 29, 2019 at 12:59 PM

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