In its May decision, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a bid protest despite agreement that the contract award was all but a tossup.
After a three year phased acquisition competition between two contractors for the design of radio detection software used in the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command aircraft, neither contractor had pulled far ahead of the other. The lack of distinction came even with a complicated and detailed evaluation. From the two factors considered, the Agency assigned ratings for the five different elements of two different sub-factors. All of this just to finish with identical ratings. Both contractors drew “moderate” concern for some of the incomplete portions of the designs, but ultimately the Source Selection Advisory Council (SSAC) leaned toward Northrop Grumman over BAE.
In preparing their recommendation, the SSAC admitted, “We do recognize that a different body of stakeholders with similar experience and knowledge could reach an entirely different recommendation based on the same data.”
As predicted, a different body did reach another conclusion. The Source Selection Authority (SSA) rejected the recommendation. While the SSA agreed the Northrop Grumman design was likely more advanced and impressive, it “does the warfighter no good until it can be integrated onto their aircraft.” The SSA cited less risk with completion of the BAE design and the small savings in cost for its decision to instead award BAE.
The GAO ruled the SSA’s preference, for one in the hand over two in the bush, was a justifiable reason to reject the SSAC’s recommendation.
Northrop Grumman focused a large portion of its protest explaining the perceived risks were very short term and therefore not a justifiable reason to discredit the benefits of their design acknowledged by the SSA and SSAC. The GAO refused to decide how the risk should have been evaluated, instead stating the SSA’s concern was not unreasonable and therefore the protest must be denied.
About the Author:
Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia..