Bid protests Feed

Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 13

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Investigations and Enforcement

Does the DOJ Have the Ability to Dismiss Declined Qui Tams?

The Government’s ability to dismiss qui tam cases is subject to multiple standards, from an “unfettered right” to only after intervention and on terms the court seems proper, and other stops in between. The Supreme Court granted cert in United States, ex rel. Polansky v. Executive Health Resources, Inc., to resolve this circuit split in a case which will be watched carefully by the Government, realtors’ counsel, and defense counsel alike.

Supreme Court Cases

1. Biden v. Texas, No. 21-954 (June 30, 2022)

  • The Supreme Court provided further analysis describing the options available to agencies on remand.
  • This is an important and developing issue of administrative law that often arises in bid protests, particularly at the Court of Federal Claims (COFC), where procurement decisions are frequently remanded back to agencies to either provide further explanation for a prior decision or issue a new decision altogether.
  • Biden v. Texas builds on the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of University of California, and confirms that when an agency decides to issue a new decision on remand, as opposed to simply providing further explanation for its initial decision, the agency has discretion to provide new justifications for its actions.

The mechanics and procedural rules that apply to agencies on remand is an increasingly prominent issue in COFC bid protests, particularly those involving corrective action. This is an area where protest practice is often driven by precedents outside the COFC, and even outside the Federal Circuit. Protest counsel should keep an eye on developments in this area of administrative law.

Claims Cases

1. Raytheon Co. v. United States, No. 19-883C (June 30, 2022)

  • In a much-anticipated decision from a long-running data rights dispute between Raytheon and the Army, COFC Judge Kaplan held that Raytheon’s vendor list did not constitute “technical data” covered by the standard DFARS noncommercial Rights in Technical Data clause, 252.227-7013.
  • This dispute stemmed from the Army’s attempt to require Raytheon to regularly submit its vendor lists relating to Raytheon’s contract to provide engineering services in support of the Patriot weapons system.
  • When Raytheon provided the list, it included proprietary legends restricting the Army’s ability to release the data to third parties—that is, to potential competitors.
  • The Army disputed Raytheon’s proprietary markings, contending the vendor lists qualified as “technical data.” that the Army had broader rights to use and distribute than Raytheon’s proprietary markings would allow.
  • After analyzing the text and regulatory history of the DFARS data rights clause, the court disagreed with the government’s position, granting relief in favor of Raytheon.

This case is an important contribution to the longstanding and ongoing discussion between DoD agencies and defense contractors regarding the need to balance (a) contractors’ investments in proprietary business methods and (b) DoD’s needs to maintain access to competitively priced maintenance and support services for major weapons systems. This decision is a justified win for contractors, but the discussion is far from over.

2. CiyaSoft Corp., ASBCA No. 59913 (June 1, 2022)

  • This ASBCA decision follows from a significant 2018 ASBCA opinion finding that the Army was bound by and breached a commercial software license that CiyaSoft incorporated into its contract to sell the Army translation software.
  • After finding for CiyaSoft on entitlement, the Board remanded the matter to the parties to negotiate quantum.
  • Ciyasoft returned to the Board after negotiations broke down; according to CiyaSoft, the government was continuing to dispute issues that CiyaSoft considered resolved in the entitlement decision. CiyaSoft and the Army could not agree as to (a) whether the license terms restricted the Army to 20 unique single users or permitted more than 20 individual users as long as no more than 20 copies of the software were deployed at once, and (b) whether CiyaSoft failed to mitigate its damages.
  • The Board found a genuine dispute of material fact relating to whether the license permits more than 20 single users, denying CiyaSoft’s motion for summary judgment on that issue, and disagreed with the government’s theory that CiyaSoft had a duty to mitigate damages before contract performance began.

This is the latest in an important and growing line of decisions from the ASBCA, COFC, and Federal Circuit relating to the resolution of software licensing disputes with the federal government, which can raise incredibly complex issues of sovereign immunity, jurisdiction, entitlement, and quantum. Companies and counsel working in this space should pay careful attention to the CiyaSoft litigation.

Protest Cases

1. AGMA Security Service, Inc. v. United States, No. 20-926C (June 26, 2022)

  • Judge Horn issued a decision carefully walking through the elements of a small business bid protester’s claim for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA); the decision provides a helpful summary of this unfortunately complex area of law.
  • After analyzing legal entitlement and examining the evidence presented as to the attorney hours worked litigating the underlying bid protest and EAJA request, the court granted recovery of nearly $33,000 in fees and expenses.

While EAJA does provide a vehicle for small business protesters to recover some amount of legal fees, this decision, like many before it, confirms that EAJA litigation is remarkably complex, with significant litigation risk for the small business seeking recovery. Accordingly, the best practice is often to reach a negotiated settlement of attorney fees to avoid this additional round (if not rounds) of contentious litigation.

2. Castellano Cobra UTE MACC LEY 18-1982, B-420429.4 (June 17, 2022)

  • This protest arises from a Navy task order award to acquire base improvements in Rota, Spain.
  • Typical of procurements requiring performance in foreign countries, the solicitation required offerors to comply with various aspects of local Spanish law.
  • When the Navy made award to a US-based company, Castellano filed a protest at GAO arguing that the awardee did not have a mandatory Certificate of Classification from the Spanish government and had not properly organized its joint venture under Spanish law.
  • The Navy took corrective action, which Castellano challenged as unreasonably narrow for failure to broadly review whether the initial awardee complied with Spanish law.
  • GAO dismissed the protest as premature on the basis that the corrective action is still ongoing; however, GAO also agreed with the agency that the general solicitation requirement to comply with Spanish law is an issue of contract administration that GAO will not consider.

Special Counsel Nathaniel Castellano predicts that Castellano Cobra (no relation) will be one of the best-named GAO bid protest decisions of the decade. It also serves as a reminder of the complex issues that arise in procurements that require performance in foreign countries, which are often subject to local labor laws and other unique requirements of the host country.

3. American Fuel Cell & Coated Fabrics Company, B-420551, B-420551.2 (June 2, 2022) (Published June 13, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest alleging that the awardee failed to comply with the requirements in DFARS 252.204-7019/7020 to perform and post in the Supplier Performance Risk Assessment (SPRS) a current NIST SP 800-171 DoD assessment.
  • During discussions, the government assigned a deficiency to an offeror for having no records in SPRS. The offeror ultimately posted a score in SPRS and received an award.
  • The protester argued that the awardee’s proposal should have been rejected for failing to demonstrate compliance with these cyber requirements. GAO agreed that that the documentation did not show that the awardee was compliant because there was no indication that the company had performed a basic assessment or posted the summary level score into SPRS, as required by the clauses.
  • GAO denied the protest, however, because the protester could not demonstrate prejudice in this multiple-award procurement given its significantly higher price and limited confidence past performance rating.

Compliance with new and evolving cybersecurity requirements continues to be an increasingly important compliance and bid protest risk area. While this protest was denied due to lack of competitive prejudice, we expect protesters to continue to raise similar grounds.

4. Chicago American Manufacturing LLC, B-420533, B-420533.2 (May 23, 2022) (Published July 5, 2022)

  • GAO sustained the protest where a firm quoted a product under its Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contract that did not meet the solicitation’s requirement.
  • The solicitation sought new furniture in several buildings in South Korea, and included specifications and requirements for all solicited items, including a metal bunkbed that must accommodate a 38”x80” mattress.
  • The awardee’s FSS catalog, however, included a bed that was only 78 inches long, or two inches short, of the solicitation’s requirements. While the awardee’s quotation specified the correct dimensions, GAO found that this was inconsistent with the FSS contract whose terms are contractually binding and not subject to alteration.

It is well established that an agency may not use FSS procedures to purchase items not listed on a vendor’s GSA schedule. Thus, as a precondition for receiving an order, all items quoted and ordered must be on a vendor’s FSS contract.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 12

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Claims/Appeals

1. Zafer Constr. Co. v. United States, Fed. Cir. No. 21-1547 (Argued April 2022)

  • The Federal Circuit is poised to issue a significant decision distinguishing between claims and requests for equitable adjustment (REAs) for purpose of establishing jurisdiction under the Contract Disputes Act (CDA).
  • The Court of Federal Claims (COFC) dismissed the claim for lack of jurisdiction after finding that the contractor’s submission, styled as an REA, did not qualify as a claim under the CDA.
  • On appeal, the contractor argues that its submission satisfies all of the requirements for a valid, certified claim, and that the COFC decision must be reversed for the same reasons that the Federal Circuit recently reversed the ASBCA in a similar case, Hejran Hejrat Co. Ltd. v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 930 F.3d 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2019).
  • During oral argument, Federal Circuit judges Newman, Reyna, and Hughes appeared skeptical of the government’s position and the COFC’s holding. The argument revealed some uncertainty, however, as to how to distinguish claims from REAs based on existing Federal Circuit precedent.

While it is important that proper claims are not rejected for lack of jurisdiction based on procedural formalities, it is also important that contractors are able to submit REAs that do not constitute claims triggering the CDA dispute process. Contractors and their counsel should keep an eye on this appeal to understand how (if at all) the Federal Circuit draws the line between claims and REAs.

COFC Protest Decisions

1. Connected Global Solutions, LLC v. United States, COFC No. 22-292C (June 21, 2022)

  • This is the latest decision in a long-running, high-profile protest that has already generated significant litigation before GAO and COFC.
  • In a rare procedural ruling, the court previously granted limited discovery from the awardee relating to an alleged proposal misrepresentation.
  • In this decision, the court considers whether to supplement the administrative record with various documents relevant to the alleged proposal misrepresentation, including the discovery responses.
  • The opinion provides a helpful explanation of the interplay between record supplementation, judicial notice, and the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Contractors and protest counsel should watch this litigation carefully to understand the court’s evolving approach to alleged proposal misrepresentations, discovery in bid protests, and record supplementation.

GAO Protest Decisions

1. Insight Technology Solutions, Inc., B-410534 (May 27, 2022)

  • The protester challenged a solicitation requirement that offerors demonstrate capability maturity model integration (CMMI) level 3 certification at the time of proposal submission.
  • GAO rejected the protester’s challenge to the agency requirement for CMMI level 3 certification, deferring to the agency’s determination of its own requirements.
  • GAO sustained the protest, however, finding that the agency could not support the requirement for CMMI level 3 certification at the time of proposal submission.

Solicitations typically impose compliance obligations and certification requirements. GAO will generally defer to an agency’s assessment of its requirements in this respect. GAO will, however, scrutinize the timing of those requirements, particularly where an agency demands that offerors demonstrate a certain certification or capability before performance begins. This line of precedent will be increasingly important as agencies seek to incorporate evolving cyber and information security qualifications into the procurement process.

2. Sabre Systems, Inc., B-420090.3, (June 1, 2022) (Published June 14, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest because the contracting agency failed to evaluate the awardee’s total compensation plan in accordance with FAR 52.222-46 (Evaluation of Compensation for Professional Employees).
  • FAR 52.222-46 contemplates evaluation of an offeror’s compensation for “professional employees, as defined in 29 CFR 541.” In this procurement, the agency determined that only a small subset of four labor categories should be considered “professional employees” as defined in 29 C.F.R. part 541. The agency reasoned that part 541 included various categories of employees, and so the agency excluded from its professional compensation analysis those employees whose duties more closely matched other categories of employees defined in part 541.
  • GAO rejected this interpretation, holding instead that the plain language of FAR 52.222-46 unambiguously requires the agency to evaluate the compensation of a proposed employee that meets the definition of “professional employees” regardless of whether that employee also meets another part 541 labor category definition. GAO found that a portion of the employees the agency excluded from its analysis of professional compensation qualified as professional employees, and GAO sustained the protest on this basis.

The purpose of evaluating proposed compensation for professional employees is to assess each offeror’s ability to provide uninterrupted, high-quality work, considering the realism of the proposed professional compensation and its impact upon recruiting and retention. GAO will sustain a protest where an agency fails to reasonably evaluate offerors’ proposed total compensation plans in accordance with FAR provision 52.222-46, for example by unreasonably excluding from the agency’s analysis certain proposed employees who meet the definition of a professional employee as defined in subpart D of part 541.

3. The Ulysses Group, LLC, B-420566 (June 7, 2022) (Published June 8, 2022)

  • GAO denied the protest challenging the Air Force’s decision to reject a late-submitted proposal where the offeror made multiple unsuccessful efforts to submit its proposal prior to the announced deadline.
  • The solicitation required offerors to submit proposal volumes through a designated online DoD portal by the stated deadline, cautioning offerors not to wait until the last minute and that no exceptions would be made to the submission deadline.
  • Beginning two days prior to the deadline for proposal submission, the company could not successfully upload its proposal to the portal. The company repeatedly sought the assistance of the portal help desk, to no avail. Prior to the deadline, the company submitted a copy of its technical volume to the help desk and discussed these issues with the contracting officer.
  • The Air Force rejected the proposal because it was not submitted in accordance with the solicitation’s requirements. GAO denied the protest, upholding the Air Force’s decision.

Offerors are well advised to submit proposals early and leave time for unexpected technical hiccups. Otherwise, and at least at GAO, hardline principles relating to the time and manner of proposal submission may prevent a contractor from obtaining relief, even if the technical issue is seemingly caused by failures in the very government system required under the solicitation.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 11

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. v. United States, No. 21-1570 (Fed. Cl. May 25, 2022)

  • In what may prove among the most significant Court of Federal Claims bid protest opinions of 2022, Judge Solomson provides a thorough explanation of the various remedies available at the Court.
  • In a prior decision as part of the same protest, the court found that the Army failed to comply with a DoD FAR Supplement (DFARS) provision requiring that DoD “should” open discussions before awarding contracts valued above $100 million. Although the court found that the protester established prejudicial error on this point, the court could not determine the appropriate nature of relief, if any.
  • After supplemental briefing, the court concluded that even though the protester could not demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for a permanent injunction, it was nevertheless appropriate to remand the procurement back to the Army to comply with the DFARS provision in the first instance, whether by further explaining its initial decision to forego discussions, or preparing a new decision.

This opinion repays careful study. Protest practitioners should be careful to understand the various remedies available at COFC and craft their pleadings accordingly.

2. AT&T Mobility LLC, B-420494 (May 10, 2022) (Published May 23, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest alleging errors in the evaluation of both non-price and price factors, as well as the source selection decision.
  • First, GAO found that under the non-price factors, the agency assessed the proposals primarily on an acceptable/unacceptable basis without performing the kind of qualitative analysis required by the amended solicitation. Specifically, the solicitation contained provisions requiring offerors to provide, and the agency to assess, detailed narrative descriptions for many of the requirements. Instead of assessing these narrative descriptions, the agency improperly evaluated offerors on the basis of the pass/fail matrix that had been removed as a stand-alone evaluation factor.
  • Next, GAO determined that the source selection decision was flawed because it converted the procurement methodology from best value to lowest-priced, technically acceptable. Here, the agency did not conduct a price/technical tradeoff because the selection authority did not see any discriminators in the protester’s proposal “worth considering for a trade-off in value over price.” However, GAO found that the record did not show that there was any qualitative discussion of the underlying merits of the proposals and why they should have been considered technically equivalent, and instead the selection authority unreasonably relied upon adjectival ratings.
  • Finally, GAO held that the price evaluation was flawed because, contrary to the solicitation’s express terms, the agency excluded pricing for the transition portion of the base year and pricing for the optional CLINs from the price calculations used in the source selection decision. While as a standalone matter this may not have been prejudicial because the protester was still higher priced, GAO nonetheless sustained because it could not conclude with any certainty that, had the agency evaluated proposals consistent with the terms of the solicitation and performed a proper tradeoff analysis, that the selection authority would have made the same selection decision.

Agencies cannot establish one evaluation scheme yet follow another. Where debriefing materials indicate that the agency did not follow its own requirements, this can be a ripe avenue for protest.

3. Sehlke Consulting, LLC, B-420494 (May 18, 2022) (Published May 25, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest arguing the awardee’s proposal was unacceptable due to the subsequent unavailability of a proposed key person.
  • The solicitation, issued by the Department of Defense, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), required offerors to provide resumes and letters of commitment for four specific key personnel positions, including a senior financial consultant.
  • In selecting KPMG for award, the selection decision identified that “specifically KPMG’s exceptional response to [the] most important management factor Key Personnel” warranted the associated cost premium.
  • The protester alleged that the agency should have evaluated the awardee's proposal as technically unacceptable when, prior to completing its evaluation of proposals and making its award decision, KPMG advised the agency that its proposed senior financial consultant had submitted a formal notice of resignation, thus putting the agency on notice that one of the company’s proposed key personnel was unavailable to perform the contract as proposed.
  • In response, NRO claimed that their evaluation was reasonable because despite the individual’s pending departure and despite the agency’s knowledge of the pending departure, the individual technically remained an employee of KPMG’s subcontractor on the date the agency executed the source selection decision.
  • GAO was not persuaded, finding that the agency could not ignore the pending departure of the key person. Unlike other cases, where a proposed key person’s unavailability was not sufficiently definite, here the fact that the senior financial consultant unambiguously resigned to take a position with a different firm made it clear that the individual was unavailable. GAO therefore determined that it was unreasonable for the agency to base its evaluation on the awardee’s offer of a senior financial consultant it had no realistic expectation would perform on the follow-on contract.

When assessing allegations regarding the unavailability of key personnel, GAO performs a fact-specific inquiry to determine whether the individual was actually unavailable and whether the agency had this knowledge prior to its award decision. GAO continues to maintain its position that when a key person becomes unavailable, agencies must either reevaluate proposals without reliance on this candidate for a required key person position, or open discussions and solicit revised proposals from all offerors.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 10

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. Sekri, Inc. v. United States, No. 21-1936 (Fed. Cir. May 13, 2022)

  • This appeal asked the Federal Circuit to decide how traditional timeliness and standing rules apply to bid protests brought by mandatory source suppliers that operate under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act, which is intended to prioritize federal procurement from the blind and severely disabled.
  • The protester filed suit at the Court of Federal Claims arguing that the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) had improperly issued a competitive solicitation for certain supplies that should have been purchased directly from SEKRI as a mandatory source pursuant to the JWOD Act.
  • The Court of Federal Claims found that it was bound to apply the Federal Circuit’s existing framework for assessing bid protest timeliness and standing and dismissed the case because SEKRI did not submit a proposal under the DLA solicitation and did not file a formal protest before the proposal submission deadline.
  • The Federal Circuit reversed, treating the case as one of first impression and holding that, based on the unique nature of the JWOD Act and mandatory source procurements, the traditional bid protest timeliness and standing rules do not bar SEKRI’s protest in this case.

This case confirms that the Federal Circuit is willing to recognize that certain government contracts cases arise in unique contexts that can warrant a departure from the traditional rules. Contractors should not assume that this holding will be interpreted to relax the otherwise strictly enforced timeliness and standing rules that apply to protests arising outside the JWOD Act. The opinion, however, is a valuable reminder of the Federal Circuit’s unique position to shape procurement law, and the potential power of a persuasive appeal.

2. BES Federal Solutions JV, LLC, B-420550 et al. (May 11, 2022) (Published May 18, 2022) 

  • GAO denied the protest where the Department of the Air Force concluded that the protester’s proposal was unacceptable under the technical (staffing plan) evaluation factor.
  • Under the mission essential plan (MEP) subfactor, the solicitation provided that offerors were required to explain how they would continue performing during a crisis, including handling employees exposed to COVID-19 and a return-to-work policy.
  • The Air Force found BES’s approach unacceptable because it did not specifically address a quarantine policy or a procedure for notifying the contracting officer’s representative regarding positive COVID-19 test results.
  • GAO rejected the protester’s argument that the Air Force’s evaluation imposed an unstated evaluation criterion. GAO explained, for example, that the Solicitation’s requirement to provide a COVID-19 testing policy reasonably encompassed an unstated requirement of where such testing would be performed.

Agencies may properly evaluate a proposal based on considerations not expressly stated in the RFP where those considerations are reasonably and logically encompassed within the stated evaluation criteria, and where there is a clear nexus between the stated and unstated criteria.

3. DCR Services & Construction, Inc., B-420179.2,B-420179.3 (April 28, 2022) (Published May 6, 2022)

  • GAO denied in part and dismissed in part a protest challenging the National Park Service’s non-selection of DCR’s quotation for the establishment of a blanket purchase agreement (BPA) for contaminated site cleanup services.
  • First, GAO denied DCR’s protest alleging flaws in its own evaluation.
  • Next, GAO dismissed DCR’s protest challenging the evaluation of the awardee’s proposal and the best-value determination, finding that DCR was not an interested party to raise these challenges.
  • GAO explained that even if DCR’s protest concerning the agency’s evaluation of the awardee’s quotation (and its treatment in the best-value determination) was sustained, DCR would not be in line to receive a BPA. The record reflects there were two other vendors that did not receive BPAs, yet the agency found their quotations to be a better value than DCR’s.

Where there is an intervening offeror who would be in line for the award if a protester’s challenge to the award were sustained, the intervening offeror has a greater interest in the procurement than the protester, and GAO generally considers the protester’s interest too remote to qualify as an interested party. Protesters should be mindful of the competitive landscape when filing protests, as they may be required to challenge not only the awardee’s evaluation, but the evaluation of other disappointed offerors.

Claims Cases

The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA) issued a decision that cites an article published by Nathaniel Castellano for the observation that the Contract Disputes Act (CDA) contains traps for the unwary, despite being intended to create a fair and efficient mechanism for resolution of government contract claims. Nathaniel’s article argues that, based on a recent line of Supreme Court precedent, the CDA’s procedural requirements for claim submission, certification, and timely appeal do not qualify as jurisdictional prerequisites for maintaining CDA litigation.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Exemption 4

1. Synopsis, Inc. v. Dept. of Labor, No. 20-16414, 20-16416, 2022 WL 1501094 (9th Cir. May 12, 2022)

  • The Department of Labor (DOL) declined to release certain materials in response to a FOIA request; the requester filed suit in district court challenging DOL’s decision to withhold; the district court held in favor of the requester, directing DOL to release the disputed materials.
  • After the district court issued its order directing DOL to release the materials, Synopsis attempted to intervene in the same case, claiming that the materials qualified as its confidential commercial information that must be withheld under FOIA Exemption 4. The district court denied the motion to intervene as untimely.
  • Synopsis separately filed an independent “Reverse-FOIA” action against DOL, asking the district court to enjoin DOL from releasing the same materials, again invoking Exemption 4. The district court rejected the Reverse-FOIA argument on the basis the court had already ordered DOL to release the materials.
  • Synopsis appealed. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in an unpublished decision, finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to intervene, and agreeing with the district court that, under Supreme Court precedent, once the district court ordered DOL to release the materials Synopsis could no longer sue to enjoin the release of those same materials.

This decision emphasizes how important it is for companies to be vigilant when trying to protect confidential information that has been submitted to the US Government. As soon as an agency provides notice that confidential information has been requested under FOIA, the company should promptly respond with legal and factual support explaining why any proprietary or confidential commercial information must be withheld. In the event a requester files suit to obtain the materials, or the agency indicates it will release sensitive information, the company should act quickly to intervene and support the agency, or file suit to enjoin the agency, as appropriate. For those interested in learning more about FOIA Exemption 4, Nathaniel Castellano recently published a Briefing Paper discussing the latest litigation developments and best practices.

Investigations and Enforcement

The Department of Justice announced an inflation adjustment to civil False Claims Act penalties, increasing the range of penalties to $12,537 to $25,076 per claim.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 9

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. VERSA Integrated Solutions, Inc., B-420530 (April 13, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision not to consider a proposal that was not timely received by the agency in a manner consistent with the solicitation.
  • While the proposal was received in the government’s electronic server before the submission deadline, the proposal submission email was quarantined by the server and did not reach the contracting officials before the deadline.
  • In presenting its case, VERSA emphasized that it submitted its proposal prior to the deadline and maintained that the government was in control of its proposal following that submission. The protester relied on standard FAR provisions that allow the government to consider a late proposal where there is no risk of delay to the procurement and the proposal is under government control before the proposal submission deadline.
  • But GAO strictly interprets the FAR’s “government control” exception, routinely holding that it does not apply to proposal submitted electronically. VERSA specifically asked GAO to reconsider this line of decisions—i.e., declining to apply the exception in circumstances similar to those here.
  • GAO declined the invitation to revisit is interpretation of the government control exception and denied the protest.

As always, offerors should leave plenty of time to submit proposals well in advance of the deadline and anticipate that electronic submissions may encounter challenges that delay submission. In the event an agency does reject an electronic proposal submission as late, recognize that GAO and the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) analyze these issues differently, and COFC may provide the more favorable forum for protest. Specifically, several COFC judges have found that an electronic proposal submission that reaches a government server before the proposal submission deadline does qualify for the “government control” exceptions stated in FAR 52.212-1 and 52.215-1.

2. Rice Solutions, LLC, B-420475 (April 25, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest because the agency unfairly engaged in discussions with only the awardee.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service (IHS), received three proposals in response to IHS’s solicitation for certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) services in South Dakota. Protester Rice’s proposal was rated as unacceptable.
  • Despite not establishing any competitive range, IHS thereafter engaged in discussions with the awardee—the only offeror initially rated as acceptable.
  • GAO faulted the agency for not conducting discussions with Rice. In doing so, GAO rejected the agency’s position that an initial rating of technically unacceptable automatically excluded Rice from the competitive range, had one been established by the agency.
  • GAO also rejected the agency’s contention that it established “a de facto competitive range of one” because nothing in the record supported this contention.
  • Thus, GAO ruled that because no competitive range had been established, the agency was required to conduct discussions with all offerors. Indeed, GAO emphasized that such discussions could have resulted in Rice submitting a revised final proposal that was found to be technically acceptable.

Although an agency has broad discretion in establishing a competitive range and is not required to memorialize its competitive range determination expressly in a formal document, the agency is required to provide sufficient information to adequately support its rationale. GAO will sustain a protest where the record is devoid of any documentation or support for the agency’s contention that a competitive range had been established before entering into discussions with only one offeror. Moreover, once an agency chooses to conduct discussions, it must do so with all offerors in the competitive range. FAR 15.306(d)(1).

3. NOVA Dine, LLC, B-420454, B-420454.2 (April 15, 2022)

  • GAO rejected a protester’s contention that it was misled during discussions to raise its proposed labor rates.
  • Over multiple rounds of discussions, the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) advised NOVA that 73 proposed labor rates appeared to be “unrealistically low,” and DISA asked NOVA to “review and provide revised rates, or provide rationale for the proposed rates.”
  • In the end, NOVA increased its rates, resulting in an increase of nearly $50 million to the offeror’s total cost/price.
  • NOVA argued that it was misled during discussions because the company’s total cost/price was higher than other offerors and because DISA compared rates to salary data taken from a more expensive geographic location (even though the contract would be performed around the world).
  • GAO denied this ground of protest, finding that DISA did not coerce NOVA into raising its direct labor rates; rather, NOVA made an independent business judgment about how to respond to the agency’s discussion concerns.
  • GAO also rejected the protester’s challenges to DISA’s evaluation under the past performance and management approach evaluation factors.

GAO generally will not find an agency’s discussions objectionable when an agency advises an offeror that certain rates appear low and provides the offeror the option of either raising the rates or justifying the rates. An offeror’s decision to raise rates—rather than justify—is typically viewed by GAO as a business judgment of the offeror. As GAO concluded here, “Ultimately, it was the offeror’s responsibility to recognize where it disagreed with the agency’s cost realism conclusions and explain why its own salary calculations were correct.”

Claims Cases

1. GSC Construction, Inc. v. Secretary Of The Army, Fed. Cir. 21-1803 (May 2, 2022)

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) affirmed the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA or Board) decision holding that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (the Army) properly had terminated the contractor’s construction contract for default.
  • GSC Construction, Inc. (GSC) contracted with the Army to build two warehouses, but then fell behind after disputing responsibility to remove soil for foundation work and failing to meet design requirements. Interestingly, the latter issue related to DOD’s Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) Minimum Antiterrorism Standards. The contract required compliance only with an earlier, less stringent version but GSC mistakenly submitted its design under the more recent, more stringent version, with which it then failed to comply. The Army itself didn’t identify the error and evaluated the design under the wrong standard.
  • Ultimately the Army terminated for default, and GSC filed an appeal with the ASBCA—arguing that the disputes concerning the soil and the design standard provided ground for an excusable delay, and seeking both damages and that the termination be converted to one for convenience.
  • The Board denied the appeal and the Federal Circuit affirmed the ASBCA’s decision, agreeing that the contract assigned site preparation and design responsibility to GSC. The Army’s failure to identify GSC’s design standard mistake did not shift risk related to design to the government.
  • In addition, the Federal Circuit rejected the argument that the Army had forfeited its right to enforce the contract by providing GSC with an extensiPublishon: “Given the Army’s repeated reservation of its rights during construction, we fail to see how the Board erred in holding that there was no forfeiture [and] GSC’s argument is thus unpersuasive.”

Termination for default is a serious threat in government contracting. Working with experienced counsel when encountering project delays or design disapproval can help avoid more costly litigation in the future, including by developing effective recovery plans and fully protecting rights under the contract.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 8

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. CACI, Inc.-Fed., B-420441 et al. (April 7, 2022) (Published April 13, 2022) 

  • GAO sustained the protest where the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), reduced the corporate experience evaluation criterion to pass/fail instead of engaging in the solicitation’s required qualitative evaluation and tradeoff of corporate experience.
  • The solicitation provided that an initial aspect of the corporate experience evaluation would be conducted on a pass/fail basis during the first phase of evaluation, but the solicitation also included corporate experience as a critical element to the agency’s best-value tradeoff in the second phase of the evaluation.
  • GAO rejected TSA’s position that it could reasonably evaluate corporate experience only on a binary pass/fail basis, finding that the plain language of the solicitation required a qualitative evaluation and tradeoff of offerors’ experience.
  • Accordingly, while the Source Selection Authority summarily compared the satisfactory ratings assigned to both the protester and the awardee, GAO held that this comparison failed to constitute the requisite qualitative comparison of corporate experience.

Challenges to an agency following the terms of the solicitation remain a very common ground of protest. Where, as here, the parties disagree about the interpretation of a solicitation provision or the manner in which the agency was to evaluate proposals, GAO will resolve the matter by reading the solicitation as a whole and in a manner that gives effect to all of its provisions.

Claims Cases

1. CSI Aviation, Inc. v. DHS, CAFC No. 2021-1630 (April 14, 2022)

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a decision issued by the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals (CBCA or Board), which had denied an appeal filed by CSI Aviation, Inc. (CSI), an air charter company.
  • CSI sought to recover $40.2 million under its General Services Administration federal supply schedule (GSA FSS) contract after the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement canceled 45 flights less than two weeks in advance.
  • CSI argued that the terms and conditions (T&C) (which included the cancellation policy) were incorporated by reference in the GSA FSS contract, but the CBCA held it was not.
  • On appeal, the Federal Circuit reiterated that a document is incorporated when it is cited in “express" and “clear” language. In this case, it found that "[t]he offer’s pricing policy contains a ‘terms and conditions’ provision that expressly states, ‘CSI terms and conditions … will apply to all operations and are included for reference,’’ and , "[t]rue to its word, a copy of the CSI terms and conditions, dated November 2008, is included as part of the offer."
  • Specifically, CAFC rejected the Board’s argument that CSI’s use of different language to incorporate different documents meant this document wasn’t incorporated: “[o]ur circuit … does not require 'magic words' of reference or of incorporation.'"

While often presented to commercial companies as a simple way to sell to the government, GSA schedule contracts actually involve complicated submissions to, and negotiations with, the government. It is important to be careful in these negotiations and clearly address any company-specific terms of sale and their relationship to standard government contract terms. Experienced counsel can help avoid costly litigation down the road as a result of unclear contract language.

Investigations and Enforcement

Jenner & Block lawyers David Robbins and Sati Harutyunyan analyzed the recently issued and long-awaited Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee Report to Congress for FY2020.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 7

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Regulatory Updates

1. OFCCP Update

The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has announced a new Contractor Portal where contractors and subcontractors must register and certify their compliance with Affirmative Action Program requirements. June 30, 2022 is the deadline to submit initial certifications. After that, annual certifications will be required. Contractor Portal Link: https://contractorportal.dol.gov

2. GSA Contracting Price Increases Update

GSA published an Acquisition Letter, link AL MV-22-02: Temporary Moratorium on EPA Clauses (gsa.gov), which announces a temporary moratorium on GSA enforcement of certain limitations on contractors’ ability to seek Economic Price Adjustment (EPA). GSA cited inflation and supply chain concerns as the reasons for the moratorium. Noting that contractors are removing items from the Federal Supply Schedules to avoid selling them at a loss, GSA will permit more frequent requests for price adjustment. GSA will also make it easier for government acquisition professionals to approve such requests.

3. Goodbye DUNS, Hello Unique Entity Identifier

After years of study, the government has stopped using Dun & Bradstreet’s Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) to identify government contractors. In its place, the government has transitioned to Unique Entity Identifiers (UEIs). Link to announcement: Unique Entity Identifier Update | GSA Contractors with existing SAM registrations have been assigned a UEI and will need to begin using the number. New registrants will request a UEI through SAM rather than register for a DUNS number as part of their SAM registration process.

Protest Cases

1. Spatial Front, Inc., B-420377 (March 7, 2022) (Published April 5, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest challenging as unduly restrictive the terms of a solicitation issued by the Department of Commerce for enterprise-wide IT services. Specifically, the protester alleged that the requirement to possess a top-secret facility clearance (TS-FCL) was unduly restrictive and had an unreasonable impact on small businesses.
  • The protestor, a small business, argued that because only a “limited number of task orders” were likely to require the TS-FCL, the requirement was unnecessary and “unreasonably restricted competition.”
  • GAO found that the agency reasonably justified this restrictive provision. The agency documented the performance and cost issues caused by the current decentralized IT environment and the benefits that would flow from a single-award contract to implement a multi-domain environment. And the agency refuted the contention that only a subset of the work was classified, explaining that it expected classified requirements in each performance area. Moreover, the agency conducted ample market research demonstrating that a significant number of small businesses could meet the solicitation’s TS-FCL requirement.
  • GAO thus found that that the TS-FCL requirement was justified and within the agency’s discretion.

Agencies are generally afforded discretion to determine their needs and the best means to accommodate them. Where a requirement touches on matters of national security, such as in the present solicitation, an agency “has the discretion to define solicitation requirements to achieve not just reasonable results, but the highest possible reliability and/or effectiveness.”

2. Veterans Choice Medical Equipment, LLC, B-419991, B-419991.2 (October 20, 2021) (Published April 1, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest challenging the Department of Veterans Affairs’ award of a contract for in-home oxygen and ventilator services.
  • The protester alleged that the agency unreasonably evaluated the awardee’s corporate experience because the awardee’s proposal lacked a reference contract containing all the required explanatory information. Further, the Source Selection Authority and another evaluator relied on their personal knowledge of the awardee’s experience that was not included in the proposal.
  • GAO found no basis to sustain the protest. The Solicitation’s proposal submission instructions afforded the agency discretion to consider experiences that did not conform to the submission requirements, and GAO found nothing improper with the evaluators considering corporate experience not found in the awardee’s proposal of which they had personal knowledge.

In certain circumstances, GAO has held that an agency may consider “close at hand” past performance or corporate experience information known to the agency and not found in an offeror’s proposal. But GAO has also made clear that the “close at hand” doctrine is not intended to remedy a failure to include required information in a proposal, and the burden rests on the offeror to submit a well-written proposal with adequately detailed information that allows for a meaningful review by the procuring agency.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 6

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. Starlight Corp., B-420276.3, B-420267.4 (March 15, 2022) (Published March 24, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest, in part, based on the agency’s insufficient documentation regarding the relevance of past performance.
  • The solicitation provided that among technically acceptable offers, a tradeoff would be made between past performance and price, with past performance significantly more important.
  • Here, the protester alleged there was no evidence in the record that the agency considered the scope, complexity, dollar value, and extent of subcontracting/teaming to determine the relevancy of the awardee’s past performance, as required by the solicitation.
  • GAO identified that while the evaluation report included the notation “relevant” for each contract, the evaluators made no mention of the relevance of contracts in relation to the solicitation requirements and provided no rationale for the relevancy ratings assigned. GAO accordingly found the agency’s documentation insufficient to allow it to assess the reasonableness of the past performance evaluation and sustained the protest.

Agencies are required to sufficiently document past performance evaluations to demonstrate their conclusions were reasonable. Failure to do so is a viable path for a sustained protest.

2. Eccalon LLC, B-420297, B-420297.2 (January 24, 2022) (Published March 22, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest challenging the Department of Defense’s (DOD) issuance of a task order for services to support the DOD’s Office of Small Business Programs in increasing small business participation in DOD acquisitions.
  • Under the solicitation’s technical approach factor, the agency was to assess the extent to which a vendor’s proposed approach demonstrated (1) the vendor’s understanding of the requirements, (2) practical and feasible methods to accomplish the required tasks, and (3) reliable methods for ensuring quality deliverables.
  • In declining to select Eccalon for award, the selection authority determined that the protester’s technical approach was only “somewhat superior” to the awardee’s because it relied on “experience and not necessarily innovation.” GAO agreed with the protester that this assessment reflected the consideration of unstated evaluation criteria.
  • More specifically, GAO concluded that if a vendor could demonstrate the attributes listed in the solicitation, a decision to downgrade an evaluation due to the vendor’s experience, as opposed to any innovation in its approach, raised a consideration not reasonably encompassed within the attributes of demonstrating understanding, practicality, feasibility, and reliability.
  • GAO also sustained the protest because the selection authority lacked a reasonable basis for disregarding an underlying evaluation finding regarding the awardee’s limited understanding of the requirement for cyber readiness and assessments, as well as because the record did not support the agency’s decision to increase the risk rating for the protester’s quotation under the management and staffing approach factor.

Although an agency properly may apply evaluation considerations that are not expressly outlined in the solicitation where those considerations are reasonably and logically encompassed within the stated evaluation criteria, there must be a clear nexus between the stated criteria and the unstated consideration. GAO will sustain a protest where an agency relies on unstated evaluation criteria.

3. Mitchco Int’l, Inc. v. United States, Fed. Cir. No. 2021-1556 (Published March 3, 2022)

  • The protester claimed, among other things, that the awardee violated the Procurement Integrity Act (PIA) by obtaining and using “contractor bid or proposal information” about the protester’s performance as a subcontractor under the incumbent effort. Critically, the awardee was also the prime contractor in the incumbent contract.
  • The Federal Circuit recognized a division in lower court precedent as to whether the PIA’s prohibition against obtaining and using contractor proposal information applies to private entities or is limited to present and former government officials. The Federal Circuit did not resolve this issue of statutory interpretation.
  • Instead, the Federal Circuit held that the PIA could not apply in this case because it was undisputed that the awardee properly obtained Mitchco’s performance information as part of the awardee’s performance of the incumbent contract, falling within a PIA safe harbor provision.

This case is another waypoint in the cluster of protest decisions relevant when a protester claims that the awardee had access to the protester’s proprietary proposal information. As discussed in the last Government Contracts Legal Round-Up, GAO consistently rejects such allegations when framed as an unequal access to information Organizational Conflict of Interest. In Mitchco, the Federal Circuit left open the possibility that there could be some recourse under the PIA where a competitor improperly obtains access to a protester’s proposal information, but not when the awardee properly obtained access to that information through the performance of a government contract.

Claims Cases

1. Appeal of AECOM Technical Services, Inc., ASBCA No. 62800 (February 8, 2022)

  • AECOM held an IDIQ contract for the performance of energy savings projects at government facilities. This IDIQ contract provided for issuance of competitive task order awards for specific energy savings performance contracts.
  • AECOM responded to an RFP for an ESPC project at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado and was issued a document informing AECOM that it had “been selected as the Energy Savings Performance Contractor” for the project and that it was authorized to “proceed with Preliminary Assessment development and submission.” AECOM did so, developing and designing energy conservation measures for the project. Several months later, the government informed AECOM that it had decided not to pursue the ESPC project and had no plans to exercise its “option to obtain ownership of any submitted documentation pertinent to the project.”
  • Almost four years later, AECOM submitted a claim alleging that the Base’s own news article indicated that it used AECOM’s designs to pursue several of the ECMs. AECOM sought its costs for developing these ECMs.
  • The government challenged this claim on jurisdictional grounds and for failure to state a claim. The Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals most recently denied that latter motion, finding that AECOM had adequately alleged the existence of a contract with the government, and rejecting the government’s argument that it was allowed to retain AECOM’s designs as “proposal materials.”

Energy Services Contractors (ESCOs) provide valuable services to the government under a unique contracting regime. It is important for ESCOs to understand their rights vis-à-vis the government throughout each state of the contracting process and ensure they are being treated fairly.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 5

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. Choctaw Defense Munitions, LLC, B-420003, B-420003.2 (October 27, 2021) (Published March 1, 2022)

  • GAO dismissed a protest alleging, in part, that the awardee had an unequal access to information OCI, finding the information at issue was not obtained through performance of a government contract.
  • A former Choctaw executive, who had been a managing officer for the affiliate performing the incumbent contract, left Choctaw and began working with Cherokee. While working at Choctaw, this individual had direct oversight of the incumbent contract and was responsible for approving proposals related to that program.
  • Choctaw thus argued that this change in employment created an unequal access to information OCI, which Cherokee failed to disclose and the agency failed to evaluate and mitigate.
  • GAO dismissed the protest ground, explaining that an unequal access to information OCI exists where a firm has access to non-public information as part of its performance of a government contract, and where that information may provide the firm an unfair competitive advantage in a later competition for a government contract. In contrast, where information is potentially disclosed by a former employee of the other firm, this type of disclosure is “essentially a dispute between private parties.” Without evidence of government involvement, as was the case here, GAO will not consider the issue.

Allegations of an OCI will be considered a private dispute, and therefore not be considered by GAO, if the information at issue is obtained not through performance of a government contract, but through hiring a competitor’s employee.

2. K&K Industries, Inc., B-420422; B-420422.2 (March 7, 2022) (Published March 10, 2022)

  • GAO dismissed a protest as untimely where it was filed more than 10 days after the agency unambiguously stated that the protester’s enhanced debriefing had concluded.
  • Following notice of award, K&K requested and received its Department of Defense enhanced debriefing, which only closes following a question and answer period. After receiving its first set of answers, K&K submitted a second round of questions, and in response the agency stated: “Any additional questions must be submitted by December 1, 2021. This concludes your written debriefing.” K&K submitted a third round of questions by that date, and following the receipt of answers, K&K filed its protest.
  • Following the submission of the agency report and K&K filing a supplemental protest, GAO on its own requested briefing on timeliness.
  • In arguing that its protest was timely, K&K contended that the second agency response was ambiguous regarding the conclusion of the required debriefing, because it stated both “[a]ny additional questions must be submitted by December 1, 2021” and “[t]his concludes your written debriefing.”
  • GAO disagreed, holding that the agency unambiguously informed K&K that its written debriefing had closed following the second round of questions. The agency’s decision to answer additional questions did not toll the protest clock, as only an agency’s action can extend a debriefing, and a disappointed offeror cannot extend the debriefing by asking further questions.

GAO’s strict timeliness rules can be a trap for the unwary. If there is an opportunity to ask additional questions after the agency has stated that the debriefing is closed, confirm that the debriefing remains open until answers are received. Without such confirmation, disappointed offerors should assume that the 10-day protest clock has commenced and file accordingly.

Claims Cases

1. Central Company, ASBCA No. 62624 (February 3, 2022)

  • After it was terminated for default, an Air Force design and construction contractor brought an appeal claiming its performance delays were excusable due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • ASBCA denied the appeal, finding no evidence that the pandemic actually affected performance. To the contrary, the board determined that significant delay occurred before the pandemic’s onset in March 2020. Specifically, the contract required that work be completed in May 2020, but as of March 2020, the contractor had submitted only one design document, which was rejected.

The decision indicates that although COVID-19 impacts could excuse delay or non-performance in some scenarios, contractors cannot cite COVID-19 impacts to explain away all delays occurring during the pandemic. Contractors asserting pandemic-related impacts should be prepared to provide documentation and point to contemporaneous demonstration to the agency of when the delays occurred and their real effect on the contractor’s work.


Government Contracts Legal Round-Up | 2022 Issue 4

Welcome to Jenner & Block’s Government Contracts Legal Round‑Up, a biweekly update on important government contracts developments. This update offers brief summaries of key developments for government contracts legal, compliance, contracting, and business executives. Please contact any of the professionals at the bottom of the update for further information on any of these topics.

Protest Cases

1. KPMG LLP, B-420388, B-420388.2 (February 16, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest challenging the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) decision to set aside a Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) procurement for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB).
  • The small business programs and the well-known “Rule of Two” generally are not applicable to FSS procurements. Instead, a contracting agency retains broad discretion to set aside FSS orders.
  • Among other arguments, KPMG challenged the adequacy of DLA’s market research, identifying differences between the description of the work provided in the agency’s sources sought notice and the precise requirements of the RFQ.
  • Nevertheless, GAO found unobjectionable the set-aside decision. GAO explained that in making set-aside decisions, agencies need only make an informed business judgment that there are small businesses that are capable of performing and can reasonably be expected to submit offers. DLA met that threshold here.

Agencies enjoy broad discretion to set aside an FSS procurement. A contracting officer need only make an informed business judgment that there is a reasonable expectation of receiving acceptably priced offers from small business concerns that are capable of performing the contract. In fact, a contracting officer may set aside a solicitation even where a skeptical competitor can identify contrasting information that could arguably justify rejecting the set-aside and holding a full and open competition.

2. Softrams, LLC; Chags Health Info. Tech., LLC, B-419927.4 et al. (February 7, 2022)

  • GAO sustained a protest where an agency made award to one company based, in part, on an oral presentation given by a different entity.
  • The protest involved a Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), procurement for operations and management of the agency’s identity management system. CMS conducted the competition among GSA federal supply schedule contract holders.
  • During the multi-phase competition, the awardee had undergone a “vendor configuration change”; the vendor changed from a traditional prime-subcontractor arrangement to a GSA contractor teaming arrangement (CTA) (with the subcontractor as the team lead). The CTA participated in the oral presentation part of the competition. 
  • Softrams and Chags protested; the agency took corrective action and eliminated the CTA from the competition; the CTA filed an agency-level protest; and CMS permitted the original prime-subcontractor bidding entity back in the competition. The agency’s corrective action then involved a reevaluation of quotations, but CMS did not permit any vendor to make revisions to or provide a new oral presentation. Ultimately, CMS issued the FSS order to the prime-subcontractor entity.

GAO sustained the protest because CMS improperly relied upon the oral presentation made by the CTA in selecting the prime-subcontractor’s revised quotation for award. That is, the quotation that formed the basis of the selection decision technically was submitted by two different vendors—a prime-subcontractor team and a CTA.

Agencies generally have broad discretion to take corrective action when the agency has determined that such action is necessary to ensure fair and impartial competition, and GAO generally will not object to specific corrective action, so long as it is appropriate to remedy the concern that caused the agency to take corrective action. Here, GAO sustained the protest because the corrective action did not fully address the original error that CMS was attempting to correct. In the end, because CMS did not revisit the vendors’ oral presentations, the agency had unreasonably based its selection decision on a quotation that was composed of submissions from two different vendors.

3. Science Applications International Corporation, B-419961.3; B-419961.4 (February 10, 2022) (Published February 23, 2022)

  • GAO denied a protest alleging (in part) that the awardee, Leidos, Inc., gained access to non-public, competitively useful information through a consulting agreement with a former NASA official who provided proposal preparation assistance.
  • The protester claimed that the former government official (referred to as X) had access to SAIC’s proprietary information from the incumbent contract, as well as access to internal agency source selection information. SAIC also argued that NASA’s investigation concluding otherwise was unreasonable.
  • Specifically, following an investigation, the contracting officer concluded that while X had access to non-public proprietary information and source selection information due to the high-ranking position the individual held at NASA before retiring, this information was not competitively useful because the information had either become public or was outdated by the time initial proposals were due. The contracting officer also found that there was no evidence that any of the agency’s non-public, competitively useful information made its way into Leidos’s proposal.
  • Ultimately, GAO found NASA’s investigation meaningful and its conclusions reasonable. GAO identified that the protester’s disagreement with the agency’s findings about the competitive usefulness of information, without more, could not displace the agency’s reasonable judgment that the awardee did not have an unfair competitive advantage. Notably, GAO concluded that SAIC did not allege hard facts pertaining to X’s involvement in the procurement, instead only providing speculation, and thus the protester was not entitled to a presumption of prejudice from an unfair competitive advantage.

For companies relying on a former government official, either as an employee or as a consultant, proceed carefully to avoid an unfair competitive advantage. For protesters alleging that the awardee has such an advantage, it is crucial to allege with specificity how the awardee benefitted from the former government official’s knowledge and insights to meet the prejudice hurdle.

Claims Cases

1. Marine Construction, LLC v. United States, COFC No. 15-1189 (February 17, 2022)

  • COFC granted in-part and denied in-part the contractor’s motion for summary judgment alleging that its termination for default of a hydraulic dredging contract at the Quillayute River Waterway in La Push, Washington should be converted to a termination for convenience.
  • The contractor claimed that this was warranted for a number of reasons including, because: the government withheld superior knowledge of certain dredging specifications, the contractors properly gave notice of an excusable delay, the government breached the contract, and of differing site conditions.
  • While the court ultimately rejected some of these claims, reserved others for further consideration at trial, or was persuaded by the government’s defenses, COFC did grant summary judgment on the contractor’s superior knowledge claim.
  • Specifically, the court found that the contractor successfully established the government breached the contract under the superior knowledge doctrine for two of its four claims.
  • First, COFC agreed with the contractor that because the government “failed to disclose its superior knowledge of the 12” minimum sufficient discharge pipe size in the 2014 solicitation,” and the contractor began performance based on that original solicitation, the government breached the contract.
  • Second, the court found that because the contractor “bid on the solicitation without knowledge of the substantial quantities of man-made debris and sunken vessels in the boat basin,” the government’s failure to disclose that information before the contractor began performance constituted a breach of contract under the superior knowledge doctrine.
  • Notably, in agreeing with the contractor on those two grounds, COFC rejected various attempts by the government to defend itself by claiming that it had informed the contractor at some later point. Instead, the court emphasized that the operative question was whether the solicitation was clear and whether the contractor had performed (to its detriment) on the basis of those representations.

When issues arise during performance—especially those resulting from surprise or other potential misrepresentations by the government—contractors should consider the superior knowledge doctrine as an effective mechanism to have the courts/boards ensure that the government strictly adhered to the terms of the contract pursuant to which the contractor performed. And, where there is a mismatch between what the government represented and the reality of performance, the superior knowledge doctrine remains a vital tool contractors may employ to ensure they are compensated for any misalignment of expectations under the contract. Our team at Jenner & Block has substantial experience litigating superior knowledge claims, please contact us with any questions.