Definitize /de-fə-nə-ˌtīz/: A govcon way of saying to make definite. The Definitizer focuses on news and issues in the realm of government contracting to (hopefully) bring a bit more definition to an often murky world.

Why bid protests are a good thing...

It's not unusual to hear complaints about the seemingly rampant abuse of the right to file bid protests. Sure there are cases where much-needed procurements get derailed for years. How long did the war over the KC-X tanker contract last???

Protests, however, serve a vital role in preserving the integrity and fairness of the procurement system. The need to keep the system fair doesn't mean that it is riddled with corruption. Rather, many decisions that sustain protests are about fixing relatively simple (and human) glitches that occur during the course of evaluations. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued an opinion that did just that when it sustained the Protest of Triad International Maintenance Corporation, No. B-408374 (September 5, 2013).  

Triad International Maintenance Corporation (TIMCO) protested the award of an aircraft structural inspection and maintenance contract by the United States Coast Guard to DRS Technical Services, Inc. (DRS). The contract to be awarded was intended to replace two existing contracts involving essentially the same work. TIMCO was the incumbent on one of the contracts; DRS was the incumbent on the other. The new contract was to be awarded to the contractor whose proposal would provide the best value to the Government on the basis of its evaluation of four factors in descending order of importance: (1) technical capability, (2) relevant past performance, (3) management, and (4) price. The technical capability rating would be determined on the basis of seven equally weighted factors, two of which involved corporate and technical experience. Price was to be evaluated to determine whether the offered prices were reasonable and balanced.

The Coast Guard awarded the contract to DRS after which TIMCO protested. Among other grounds, TIMCO asserted that  the agency ignored relevant past performance information, engaged in an unannounced price realism analysis, and gave unequal weight to the past experience of DRS and TIMCO in their performance of the existing contracts. The GAO agreed with TIMCO on these points.

Space doesn't really permit a lengthy discussion of the facts and why they mattered except to say this - the GAO's opinion essentially came down to a determination that the agency didn't perform a disciplined, well-documented evaluation. For example, there is no indication that the agency considered TIMCO's performance of the very contract that the new contract would replace. The GAO admonished the agency for ignoring past performance information that was so "close at hand" that it could not be ignored. The GAO also agreed with TIMCO that DRS received unfair experience credit when the agency characterized DRS alone as the incumbent when it was clear that both could fairly be (or not be) considered to be the incumbents.

In addition, the GAO sided with TIMCO on its complaint that the Coast Guard had performed an unannounced price realism analysis as part of the price evaluation. Here I have to bore you a little - when a solicitation calls for a firm fixed price offer, the Government must consider whether the offered price is reasonable - aka not too high. On the other hand, there is no requirement that the agency perform a price realism analysis (in which the agency considers whether prices are too low in a way that poses risk to the Government or suggests that the offeror doesn't understand the contract requirements). This is because, in general, the Government could care less that a contractor has decided to charge a really low price and take it on the profit/loss chin. Sometimes businesses offer low prices to achieve a larger business goal - for example to get a foot in the door for future work. If the Government chooses without warning to evaluate whether the prices are realistic, otherwise responsible offerors aren't on notice that they should think twice before offering bargain basement prices. Because the solicitation did not call for a price realism analysis, the GAO held that it was unfair for the Coast Guard to downgrade TIMCO's proposal for prices that were too low when TIMCO had no idea the Government would do that.

Coming back to my original point, the GAO's decision in TIMCO demonstrates why bid protests are critical to a fair and effective procurement system. This protest was not particularly novel or complicated. Nor did it involve a clash of titans. Someone simply needed to look over the Coast Guard's shoulder to see if its evaluation was fair. Here, the GAO agreed with the protester that there were some glitches that needed correction. Protests like this one keep the system fair and disciplined. And, that's why protests are a good thing.

Obama to Contractors: Time to Get Serious about Hu...
What? I'm on YouTube?