Prior to 2008, dating back to 1994, it was not permissible to protest a task order. The 1994 enactment of the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act ("FASA") provided that protests over task or delivery orders were barred unless the protest alleged that the order increased the scope, period, or maximum value of the underlying contract through
By: Edward T. DeLisle
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (the 2008 Act), Congress provided the General Accounting Office (GAO) with the authority to hear protests involving certain task and delivery order contracts emanating from both defense and civilian agencies. At the time, this authority was limited to a period of…
By: Michael H. Payne
There is an old saying that “you win some, and you lose some.” Well, if you are a construction contractor who competes in the world of Multiple Award Task Order Contracting (“MATOC”), you usually lose. Under sealed bidding, which dominated the procurement of federal construction for many years, a contractor who…
An important decision, Serco, Inc. v. United States was issued by the United States Court of Claims last week in a case involving a government-wide acquisition contract (“GWAC”) awarded by the General Services Administration (GSA) to provide technology products and services to the entire federal government. Sixty-two offerors competed for a chance to perform task orders under this GWAC. In ranking the technical proposals of these offerors, GSA teams assigned adjectival ratings to various subfactors and then converted them into whole numbers ( e.g., 3, 4, 5). Combining, averaging and weighting these figures, the agency ended up with technical scores that were carried out to three decimal points ( e.g., 3.817), and it made critical distinctions among the sixty-two offerors based upon the thousandths of a point. Based upon these technical scores, twenty-eight contractors were designated by the agency as “presumptive awardees.” GSA then purported to conduct price reasonableness and tradeoff analyses to take into account price-but, conspicuously, none of these comparisons resulted in any of the “presumptive awardees” being displaced by a lower-priced offeror. Indeed, GSA ultimately made awards to offerors whose prices were 59th, 60th and 61st out of the sixty-two offers-prices that the agency claims were “fair and reasonable” despite being twice as high as the lowest winning offer, as much as thirty percent higher than the independent government cost estimate, and more than two standard deviations to the mean of the evaluated prices for all the offerors.
The so-called “Alliant” GWAC is to be administered by GSA pursuant to section 5112(e) of the Clinger-Cohen Act. Alliant is designed to provide federal agencies with a broad range of information technology (IT) products and services, including computers, ancillary equipment, software, firmware and similar applications, network design, support services, and related resources such as telecommunication and security. Alliant contemplates the multiple-award of indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (MA/IDIQ) contracts, with a ceiling of $50 billion, to be performed, on a task order basis, during a five-year base period and one, five-year option period. Under the Alliant Solicitation No. TQ2006MCB0001 (the Solicitation), individual task orders could range as high as $1 billion in value; successful offerors, however, are guaranteed a minimum take of only $2,500. Alliant offers a wide range of contract types, including fixed-price, cost reimbursement, labor-hour and time and material.
On September 26, 2007, Serco, Inc. (Serco) filed a complaint in this court challenging the award decisions and seeking a variety of injunctive relief. Subsequently eight other unsuccessful offerors filed protests and were joined in the Serco protest. GSA issued the Solicitation on September 29, 2006. The Solicitation advised that GSA “contemplate[d making] approximately 25 to 30 awards … but reserves the right to place fewer or more awards, depending upon the quality of the proposals received.” Those receiving awards under the Solicitation are eligible to perform task orders under the contract. The Solicitation indicated that “[a]ward will be made to responsible Offerors whose proposals are determined to provide the ‘best value’ to the Government.”
In a scholarly opinion, by Judge Francis M. Allegra, the Court concluded that GSA, “in attaching ”talismanic significance to technical calculations that suffer from false precision, made distinctions that, in their own right, likely were arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law, but certainly became so when the agency failed adequately to account for price and to make appropriate tradeoff decisions. Those compounding errors prejudiced the plaintiffs and oblige this court to set aside the awards in question and order appropriate injunctive relief.” The Court did not agree that there was a rational basis to make distinctions between offerors on the basis of thousandths of a point. Judge Allegra ruled that “Precision of thought is not always reflected in the number of digits found to the right of a decimal point – indeed, as with other constructs, there can be, to paraphrase Holmes, a “kind of precision that obscures.” Ultimately, Court ruled that the agency made award decisions that were “arbitrary, capricious and otherwise contrary to law.”
Effective May 23, 2008, there will be important changes that pertain to a contractor’s ability to protest task and delivery orders. These changes are embodied in Section 843 of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, "Enhanced Competition Requirements for Task and Delivery Order Contracts," and legislators expect the new provisions to increase competition for task and delivery order contracts. Most notably, the new law allows a contractor to protest a task order in excess of $10 million to the GAO. Previously, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 (“FASA”) prohibited task order protests, except in very limited circumstances. In addition, the new law requires that DOD task or delivery order contracts in excess of $100 million be awarded to multiple contractors, with certain exceptions, and the establishment of enhanced competition requirements, such as a requirement for debriefings on task or delivery orders in excess of $5 million under such multiple award contracts. The GAO is currently revising its bid protest rules to address the newly acquired jurisdiction over task order protests. (The new rules will be posted on this blog as soon as they are issued).
At the April 19, 2007 hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services regarding the DOD’s management of costs under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (“LOGCAP”) contract in Iraq, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asked why ithe Army waited five years to split the contract among multiple contractors, allowing for competition of individual task orders. The response from the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics was: "I don’t have a good answer for you." The provisions of Section 843 ensure that, absent compelling reasons not to, there will be competition in the award of task and delivery orders on future contracts of this type. As far as we are concerned, however, there is an open question as to whether Multiple Award Task Order Contracts (‘MATOC”) are legally authorized under the Federal Acquisition Regulation for the procurement of construction. A protest raising that issue was filed by our firm and is pending before the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Section 843 of the Defense Authorization Act lifts the ban imposed by the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act on protests to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of task or delivery orders valued over $10 million. This provision may be short-lived though: it contains a “sunset” provision and expires three years after it becomes effective. Congress enacted Section 843 in response to the need for enhanced competition requirements, and apparently believed that federal agencies had too little oversight when permitted to issue task order procurements that were not subject to protest. After the FASA was enacted, federal agencies increasingly employed the indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (“IDIQ”) contracts for expensive projects, purportedly to utilize “streamlining” but, in part, to circumvent the bid protest process. It will be interesting to see whether the newly enacted right to file bid protests will have a “chilling” effect on agency plans to issue IDIQ contracts in the future.
The exclusive jurisdiction granted to the GAO means that the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) will not adjudicate these protests. Under the current protest regime, both the GAO and the CFC are authorized to hear bid protests, and we would have preferred for that dual jurisdiction to have continued on task order protests, as well. An advantage of the current system for contractors is that if they are unhappy with the outcome of a GAO protest, they can obtain de novo review of that same protest at the CFC. Under Section 843, this second chance will not be available for task or delivery order protests. This has serious implications for contractors because only a small fraction of protests heard by the GAO are sustained.
A protest was filed recently in the United Stated Court of Federal Claims by our firm on behalf of a small business construction contractor challenging a solicitation issued by the Fort Worth District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The solicitation, No. W9126G-07-R-0123, is one of four similar solicitations for the construction of military projects…