Lawsuits land in court over $60B Veterans Affairs IT vehicle / Boonchai Wedmakawand

The department's recompete of its go-to contract for technology services and solutions, called T4NG2, now appears to have a more elongated timeline.

Three protests involving the Veterans Affairs Department's recompete of its flagship technology contract vehicle have hit the federal court system as proposals were due.

Booz Allen Hamilton, GovCIO and VCH Partners are challenging how the VA is conducting the competition for its $60 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology NextGen contract, called T4NG2, the successor to the current T4NG vehicle that is the department's main contract for buying IT services and solutions.

Proposals for T4NG2 were due Thursday, June 15. VCH Partners filed its lawsuit at the Court of Federal Claims on June 13. GovCIO filed two days later as bids were due and Booz Allen submitted its complaint on Tuesday.

A hearing is scheduled for Thursday afternoon for all parties involved to discuss next steps, given the protestors are challenging the same contract. The cases could be consolidated into a single matter if the judge assigned to them determines the arguments are similar enough.

Through a spokesperson, VA officials declined to comment, citing the active litigation. But court filings indicate the VA has put a voluntary hold on making awards through early September and will continue to evaluate proposals during that time.

Booz Allen and GovCIO first took their protests to the Government Accountability Office, but the Court of Federal Claims has broader authority to enforce bid protest rulings. VCH Partners went directly to the court with its protest as opposed to GAO first.

GAO could dismiss the protests in front of it by the end of the week given the court filings, but the protest adjudication agency's docket lists these challenges as still active: Booz Allen, GovCIO and Vet Source 1.

One common line of criticism emerges out of VCH Partners' 17-page complaint and GovCIO's 18-page filing to the court: how the VA views mentor-protege joint ventures that pair a large business with a small firm as bidders and potential awardees. Booz Allen's lawsuit filed Tuesday is currently sealed.

The VA plans to make 30 awards in total, with up to half of them reserved for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. Within that latter group of 15, the VA is reserving up to one for firms that also are woman-owned small businesses and a second for a company also with the HUBZone designation.

Self-scoring is the method by which companies will have their proposals evaluated and validated. After the awards are finalized, all companies will then compete in a single pool for task orders to perform work, as opposed to separate pools for small businesses and "other than small" companies.

In VCH Partners' lawsuit, the company claims that having the single pool for task order competition would pit mentor companies against their mentor-protege JVs. VCH Partners is itself such a venture, with Harmonia Holdings Group as the mentor and Visual Connections as the protege.

T4NG2 is the second major procurement over recent months where VCH Partners has challenged how mentor-protege JVs would be evaluated. VCH Partners also was among those who successfully protested the General Services Administration’s Polaris small business contract for IT solutions and got that favorable ruling in May.

Given that mentor-protege JVs are considered small businesses, VCH Partners claims the solicitation for T4NG2 allocates subcontract credit for only the protege's work versus for the entire effort.

VCH Partners has told the court that mentors have an advantage in how they provide pricing and technical information to the mentor-protege JV, while also having access to it when submitting its own proposal.

GovCIO's lawsuit also hits out at how the VA plans to look at bids from mentor-protege JVs and specifically their submissions of relevant experience projects, or work performed for other agencies that is similar to what the VA is asking for in T4NG2.

The way GovCIO sees it: relevant experience projects from the protege will receive equal numbers of points regardless of the dollar value. In GovCIO's eyes, that means the solicitation does not factor in the breadth and scope of experience examples submitted.

GovCIO is also taking issue with how the VA plans to make awards along a single track, even with the reserved spots for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, a group which GovCIO says will bid under a different scoring system than others.

GovCIO wants the VA to establish two tracks: one for service-disabled firms and a second that is unrestricted.