60-Second Sustains: Rice Solutions, LLC

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Elizabeth N. Jochum

Rice Solutions, LLC
B-420475

  • GAO sustained the protester’s allegation that the Department of Health and Human Services had engaged in unequal discussions.
  • Once an agency chooses to conduct discussions, it must do so with all offerors in the competitive range under FAR 15.306(d)(1).
  • Here, the Agency did not dispute that it engaged in discussions with only the awardee, but claimed it had established “a de facto competitive range of one.”
  • GAO found that the record was devoid of any documentation or support for the Agency’s contention that a competitive range had been established before holding discussions with only one offeror, the awardee.
  • GAO stated, “[w]here, as here, there is no record or evidence that the agency established a competitive range, we will not infer the existence of a de facto competitive range, in order to validate an agency’s omission of an offeror during its conduct of discussions.”

DoD’s Final Rule on Enhanced Post-Award Debriefings Provides Offerors Clarity on Automatic Stay Deadlines and Access to Agency’s Redacted Source Selection Decisions

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Robyn N. Burrows and Luke W. Meier


The Department of Defense (“DoD”) recently issued its final rule amending the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (“DFARS”) to provide offerors enhanced post-award debriefing rights. DoD has provided these enhanced debriefing procedures since 2018 through a FAR Class Deviation, allowing offerors to submit additional questions after receiving the post-award debriefing. Four years later, DoD’s final rule clarifies when the clock for an automatic stay begins in an enhanced debriefing and provides greater transparency by allowing unsuccessful offerors in certain procurements access to the agency’s redacted source selection decision.

We highlight below several key elements of the final rule:

Access to Redacted Source Selection Decision Document

The final rule requires DoD to provide the source selection decision document in certain circumstances, redacted to remove confidential and proprietary information of other offerors. For awards over $100 million, DoD must automatically provide the source selection decision during the debriefing. Small businesses and nontraditional defense contractors on procurements resulting in awards over $10 million and up to $100 million are also entitled to a copy of the decision but must specifically request it—the agency will not automatically provide it to offerors.

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New Federal Circuit Guidance Regarding Patent and Latent Ambiguities

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Stephanie M. Harden, Patrick F. Collins, and Ustina M. Ibrahim*

Stephanie Harden's Headshot Photo

Ambiguities in a solicitation or contract have long been one of the greatest traps for unwary contractors. At the solicitation phase, a failure to identify a “patent” (i.e., obvious) ambiguity often results in the contractor losing the competition with no viable bid protest challenge. This is because such ambiguities are construed in the agency’s favor. A contractor seeking to recover added costs based upon an ambiguous contract term will be unable to recover such costs if the ambiguity is “patent” and the Government disagrees with the contractor’s interpretation.

Traditional Test for Patent vs. Latent Ambiguities

So how does one distinguish between “patent” and “latent” ambiguities? Numerous Federal Circuit authorities tell us that a patent ambiguity arises where there is “an obvious omission, inconsistency or discrepancy of significance” that “could have been discovered by reasonable and customary care.” E.g., Per Aarsleff A/S v. United States, 829 F.3d 1303, 1312-13 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (internal quotations omitted). By contrast, a latent ambiguity is a “hidden or concealed defect which is not apparent on the face of the document, could not be discovered by reasonable and customary care, and is not so patent and glaring as to impose an affirmative duty on plaintiff to seek clarification.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).

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60-Second Sustains: Eccalon, LLC

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Elizabeth N. Jochum

Eccalon, LLC
B-420297; .2

  • GAO sustained the protester’s challenge where the Defense Department considered a factor that was not reasonably encompassed within the evaluation criteria.
  • The RFQ provided that the agency would evaluate technical approach to determine the extent to which the approach demonstrated understanding of the requirements, feasible methods to accomplish required tasks, and reliable methods for ensuring quality deliverables.
  • In comparing the protester and awardee’s quotations, though, the agency found that the protester’s approach was only “somewhat superior” because it relied on “experience and not necessarily innovation.”
  • GAO found this conclusion inconsistent with the RFQ’s evaluation criteria, which did not put offerors on notice that their approach would be devalued if rooted in experience rather than innovation.
  • GAO found no clear nexus between the identified evaluation criteria and the agency’s consideration of experience and innovation and sustained the protest accordingly.

Court of Federal Claims Declines to Adopt GAO’s Rule for Post-Proposal Key Personnel Changes

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Elizabeth N. Jochum and Robyn N. Burrows

For years, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has been moving towards an increasingly draconian position on offerors’ obligations to notify agencies when the availability of proposed personnel changes after proposal submission. A recent decision by the Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) in Golden IT, LLC v. United States expressly addressing and departing from the GAO precedent may give hope to offerors struggling with GAO’s requirement.

Golden IT, LLC (“Golden”) protested the Department of Commerce’s award of a single blanket purchase agreement to Spatial Front, Inc. (“SFI”). Among its many protest grounds, Golden claimed that SFI’s quote contained a material misrepresentation regarding key personnel because it proposed an employee who had allegedly left SFI after it submitted its bid and before receiving award. Golden claimed that SFI was obligated to notify the agency of the individual’s unavailability after submitting its proposal.

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60-Second Sustains: Insight Technology Solutions, Inc.

Welcome to our new series “60-Second Sustains”! We’ll keep you updated on who is winning bid protests and why. Hit the subscribe button on the right to get timely updates right in your inbox!

Elizabeth N. Jochum

Insight Technology Solutions, Inc.
B-420133.2, .3, .4

  • Protester alleged that the awardee misrepresented the experience of one of its proposed key personnel, claiming the individual had 9 years of relevant experience when in fact the individual did not meet even the minimum required 5 years of experience.
  • The protester pointed to the proposed key person’s LinkedIn profile in support of the argument that the individual had less than the required experience.
  • GAO agreed that the awardee materially misrepresented the individual’s relevant experience and found the agency relied on that misrepresentation in making its source selection decision.
  • GAO recommended, as a result, that the Agency exclude the awardee’s proposal from the competition.
  • GAO also found that the agency had engaged in disparate treatment by crediting the awardee for its approach to back-filling vacancies, but not crediting the protester’s proposal despite “nearly identical” language.

“Rule of Two” Cheat Sheet

Merle M. DeLancey Jr.

June 2021 marked the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Kingdomware decision[1], which is best known for broadly interpreting the so-called “Rule of Two” requirement flowing from the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “VBA”). The Rule has been criticized for delaying Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) procurements and increasing the prices the government pays for goods and services. However, the importance of the Rule’s purpose—to prioritize and increase the government’s use of small businesses owned by veterans—cannot be credibly challenged.

Over the past five years, the Federal Circuit, Court of Federal Claims, and Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decisions have created some bright-line rules interpreting the VBA’s Rule of Two. After a brief summary of the Rule of Two, this post lays out these bright-line rules, and concludes with predictions regarding future VBA Rule of Two protests.

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Surviving Proposal Weaknesses after Discussions: What Not to Do

Albert B. Krachman

With apologies to Paul Simon, this is another in a series of articles on the 50 ways contractors can lose awards on federal contracts. These cautionary tales should inform anyone in a contractor organization with responsibility for authorizing, preparing, or negotiating competitive federal contract proposals.

Like the inverse of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People bestseller, the mistakes that lead to lost awards are well known and include: carelessness, greed, lack of attention to detail, procrastination, and cursory (or omitted) red-team reviews. This article highlights another surefire path to disaster: failing to adequately correct proposal weaknesses after discussions.

This lesson arises out of a clash between BNA and Lexis, legal search titans, over a U.S. Treasury contract. The combatants were seeking award of a contract for electronic research services for IRS staff, described in a GAO Bid Protest decision, LexisNexis, a Division of RELX Inc., B-418885; B-418885.2 (October 8, 2020).

Treasury’s solicitation required that offerors both describe their search solutions in technical proposals, and have a working computing solution, active for government testing. After initial proposal submissions and initial evaluations, the government advised offerors of weaknesses and deficiencies in their proposals and in their computing solutions. Treasury advised Lexis that its proposal suffered from a significant weakness due to Lexis’ computing solution’s return of erroneous search results. Discussions were opened and offerors were permitted to submit final proposal revisions. Offerors were also permitted to correct any deficiencies in their computing solutions before another round of government testing.

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Foul but No Harm? Strict FAR Compliance Can Be a One-Way Street

Albert B. Krachman

Contractors and contractor teams competing for set-aside contracts should internalize the Federal Acquisition Regulation (“FAR”) compliance lesson imparted by a recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) protest decision related to small business set-aside procurements. In Kira Training Services, LLC, B-419149.3 (January 4, 2021) GAO illustrated that in the set-aside area, an Agency can violate a mandatory FAR provision, but a contractor cannot complain unless it takes timely proactive steps to protect itself from the government error. In Kira, GAO found that on a set-aside contract, the Navy violated the FAR by not sending the required pre-award list of intended awardees to all offerors, but the small business protester was not competitively prejudiced by the Navy error because it failed to protect itself by filing a post-award size protest.

The purpose of the pre-award notice on small business set aside contracts is to allow competitors to timely file size protests against proposed awardees who may not be an eligible small business. The regulations make it more advantageous for a bidder to challenge a competitor’s size before award, as opposed to post award, when an adverse size or status ruling may not prevent the government from proceeding with the challenged procurement even if the size protest is sustained.

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Majority of FY 2020 Protests Find Some Success at GAO

Luke W. Meier and Scott Arnold

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has released its Annual Report to Congress summarizing bid protest activity for Fiscal Year 2020 (GAO-21-281SP). The report shows that, in a unique year where COVID-19 altered procurement practices and priorities, protest activity at GAO was remarkably stable. Of note, GAO’s “effectiveness rate” this year topped 50 percent, meaning most protests resulted in some form of relief. The number of task order protests continues to increase, despite a modest dip in overall protests. Unsurprisingly, again there were very few hearings.

The chart below summarizes the GAO protest statistics from FY 2015 to FY 2020.

Here are four key takeaways from the latest report.

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