WHEN IS A TASK ORDER OUT OF SCOPE?

Two recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) bid protest decisions are interesting because in both cases, the GAO held that a task order issued by the agency was outside the scope of either the underlying Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (“IDIQ”) contract, or outside the scope of the task order itself. The cases are Western Pilot Service et al, B-415732 et al, March 6, 2018, involving an air tanker procurement by the Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”), and Alliant Solutions, LLC, B-415994, May 14, 2018, involving a General Services Administration (“GSA”) Government Wide Acquisition Contract. When an agency seeks to procure something using an underlying contract or a task order, the product or service sought must be within the scope of the contract or … Continue reading

EXTEND YOUR OFFER OR PROTEST

An offer on a government contract is normally subject to a specified offer (bid or proposal) acceptance period. Standard Form (“SF”) 33, Solicitation, Offer and Award, includes a block 12 which states that either a minimum offer acceptance period is specified in FAR 52.214-16 (which is included in the solicitation), or if not so included, then the acceptance period to maintain the offeror’s prices is 60 calendar days, unless the offeror inserts a different period in block 12. For commercial contracts using SF 1449, Solicitation-Contract Order for Commercial Items, the minimum offer acceptance period is 30 calendar days, unless a different period is specified in an addendum to the solicitation. This is provided for in FAR 52.212-1, which is incorporated by reference in the SF … Continue reading

THE GAO HAS NO BID PROTEST JURISDICTION OVER FANNIE MAE AND FREDDIE MAC

Even though the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA or “Fannie Mae”) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC or “Freddie Mac”) were in receivership, they are not “federal agencies” and are not subject to the bid protest jurisdiction of the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”). S.E. James & Co., B-415733, Feb. 7, 2018. S.E. James protested actions by Fannie and Freddie not to include their company on a list of approved insurance agencies. GAO noted that both Fannie and Freddie are chartered as for-profit, shareholder-owned corporations, and seek to enhance the liquidity, stability and affordability of mortgage credit. Because of their deteriorating financial condition, which threatened the stability of the financial market, Fannie and Freddie were placed into conservatorships. The GAO dismissed the protest because … Continue reading

UNREASONABLE RESTRICTIONS ON QUOTATION OR PROPOSAL REVISIONS

Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) 15.307 states that “[a]t the conclusion of discussions, each offeror still in the competitive range shall be given an opportunity to submit a final proposal revision….” This same requirement for fairness applies to negotiated procurements that seek proposals as well as quotations from offerors. Recently, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) reminded agencies that when they seek a final offer, they cannot restrict a contractor’s ability to make amendments in areas where there have been amendments that materially impact those areas. In Castro & Co., B-415508.4, Feb. 13, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) issued an amendment to a solicitation for financial statement audit and internal control support services. After DHS selected the awardee, it received post-award protests, and decided to … Continue reading

WHAT IS A FAIR MARKET PRICE IN SET-ASIDES?

What is a fair market price, or a fair and reasonable price? The Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) requires that in a small business set-aside, the government must have a reasonable expectation that the award price will be reasonable, i.e., award will be made at “fair market prices:” FAR 19.502-2 Total small business set-asides. [] (b) [] The contracting officer shall set aside any acquisition over $150,000 for small business participation when there is a reasonable expectation that— (1) Offers will be obtained from at least two responsible small business concerns offering the products of different small business concerns [] and (2) Award will be made at fair market prices. Partial set-asides include the same “fair market price” requirement: 19.502-3 Partial set-asides. (a) The contracting officer … Continue reading

LATENT AMBIGUITY

It is an important rule of interpretation for both solicitations and contracts that the reader must examine the plain language of the document, and resolve questions of interpretation by reading the document as a whole and in a manner that gives effect to all provisions. Where the language is unambiguous, then it can be interpreted and its meaning understood. But, where there are two possible reasonable interpretations of a document, then an ambiguity exists. There are two types of ambiguities: Patent ambiguities: where the ambiguity is an obvious, gross or glaring error (for example, one page includes a specification of six inches for an item, but on a later page, the same specification is referred to as 7.5 inches). Latent ambiguity: a more subtle ambiguity … Continue reading

IMPROPER DISCUSSIONS: AGENCY TREATED NEUTRAL PAST PERFORMANCE AS “INCREASED RISK” WITHOUT MENTIONING IT IN DISCUSSIONS

In a recent bid protest case, the Court of Federal Claims included two important conclusions: (1) in determining whether a deficiency or weakness exists in a proposal, an agency must use a fact-centered, materiality or competitive impact analysis, not a categorical statement that an offeror has received a “neutral” past performance rating; and (2) although a neutral past performance rating (described in FAR 15.305(a)(2)(iv)) may have been given to a proposal, the agency may not choose to treat the proposal as having an increased risk of unacceptable performance, unless it identifies it to the offeror as a significant weakness in discussions. Precision Asset Management Corp. v. United States, No. 16-261C (Fed. Cl. Dec. 13, 2017). The Federal Housing Authority issued a solicitation for asset management … Continue reading

NO ACCEPTANCE MEANS NO CONTRACT

The U.S. Forest Service manages our national forests, which includes organizing and administering timber sales. These sales result in government contracts—but in reverse—the timber companies bid a price they will pay the government for the right to remove (and presumably sell) the timber. Generally, the high responsible bidder in a timber sale is the awardee. This case address when a timber contract is formed. After reviewing two prospectuses for timber sales in two areas of the Plumas National Forest in California, Pew Forest Products submitted two bids. See Pew Forest Products v. U.S., COFC No. 09-814C (May 7, 2012). On June 26, 2007, the contracting officer opened the bids and declared Pew the high bidder on both. Because of negotiations with environmental groups, the Forest … Continue reading

IMPROPER AGENCY DISCUSSIONS AND MIS-EVALUATION OF PAST PERFORMANCE

Agencies continue to make errors in the way they handle discussions with offerors in the competitive range. Recently, in Language Select LLP, B-415097, Nov. 14, 2014, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) sustained a protest because the agency had improperly labeled a discussion question as a simple request for a clarification, thereby resulting in unequal discussions. The agency also mis-evaluated an offeror’s past performance. Before discussing Language Select, it may be worthwhile to restate the rules and typical mistakes in discussions, both of which were set forth in a blog titled “Six Recurring Agency Mistakes in Discussions” (May 9, 2016), as follows: Rules on Discussions Clarifications are limited exchanges, between the Government and offerors, that may occur where offerors are given the opportunity to clarify certain … Continue reading

RAND CORPORATION REVIEWS BID PROTESTS AND CONCLUDES THAT MAJOR CHANGES ARE NOT APPROPRIATE

The RAND Corporation, at the request of the Congress in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) recently completed a study titled, “Assessing Bid Protests of U.S. Department of Defense Procurements—Identifying Issues, Trends and Drivers” by M. Arena, B. Persons, I. Blickstein, M. Chenoweth, G. Lee, D. Luckey and A. Schendt, January 2018. The study includes a wealth of information on bid protests at both the Governmental Accountability Office (“GAO”) and the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”). However, the general conclusion of the assessment is that the system is working well and major changes in bid protests are not appropriate. Major Findings: DOD personnel are generally dissatisfied with the current bid protest system, believing that contractors have an unfair advantage in that they are able … Continue reading