Northrop wants L3Harris kicked out of $500M jammer competition

An EA-18 Growler taking off from the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush.

An EA-18 Growler taking off from the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush. Gettyimages.comGiovanni Colla/Stocktrek Images/

Northrop Grumman has asked the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to ban L3Harris from a $500 million competition to build the next-generation jammer for the Navy's EA-18 Growler aircraft.

Northrop Grumman is asking the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to ban L3Harris Technologies from working on the Navy’s next -generation jammer.

The two companies have been locked in a fly-off competition and it looked like L3Harris had won the $500 million contract to continue development and deploy of an electronics pod that sits under the EA-18 Growler aircraft.

But in a successful protest at the Government Accountability Office, Northrop argued L3Harris had a conflict of interest because it hired a Navy official who worked on the specifications for the contract during that company's process of recruiting him.

GAO normally recommends that in situations like this, a competitor be disqualified as we wrote in a recent decision involving Booz Allen Hamilton.

Eliminating L3Harris wasn’t an option here however, GAO said in that ruling.

GAO instead recommended the Navy use people who review the requirements and see if they were influenced in L3Harris’ favor by the Navy official.

If problems were found, GAO recommended the Navy amend the solicitation and get new proposals. If no issues were found, the Navy should reopen discussions and get revised proposals.

In a complaint filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Northrop says the Navy rejected GAO’s recommendation and moved ahead with the award to L3Harris.

It’s important to note that GAO only makes recommendations. The vast majority of agencies follow the recommendations but they aren't required to.

Agencies must file a report with GAO if they don't follow the recommendations. During fiscal year 2021, no agency went against GAO’s recommendations.

Northrop filed its complaint with the court in October, but it was sealed until this week when a redacted version was released.

According to the filing, the Navy said it implemented the first part of GAO’s recommendations by forming an independent review panel. The panel found that the requirements were consistent with the Navy’s needs. In other words, the Navy official didn’t shape them in L3Harris’ favor.

But the Navy didn’t follow the second part because they felt it was unnecessary, the branch said. There is more to the Navy’s answer, but that portion is blacked out in the document.

Northrop argues that both conflict of interest still exists and that L3Harris should be deemed ineligible for the contract on that point, plus that L3Harris didn’t meet several of the requirements in the contract.

There isn’t a public timeline for the court to decide the case. The docket has many filings that are still sealed and there appears to be a dispute about the paper record of the procurement.

Northrop is asking for more documents. A decision on that request is expected in January.

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