A major tenet in government contracting is that agencies enjoy broad discretion in identifying their needs and developing the most appropriate solicitation to satisfy them. Though broad, this discretion is not unlimited. If challenged, an agency must demonstrate that its specifications are reasonably necessary to meet its needs and are not unduly restrictive of competition.
GAO recently affirmed this principle in Pitney Bowes, Inc., B-413876.2 (Feb. 13, 2017), when it sustained a protest challenging a solicitation’s requirements as being unduly restrictive of competition.
Imagine that you’re a manufacturer of appliances, and respond to a solicitation seeking one of your appliances (on a brand name basis). You, of course, propose to provide your appliance. But you lose out on an award to an offeror that submits an offer for a different appliance that admittedly does not comply with the solicitation’s minimum requirements.
In this situation, you’d probably be fairly upset. And as a recent GAO decision acknowledged, you’d likely have a successful basis of protest—that is, if you could establish that you were prejudiced by the government’s award decision, and if you understood what exactly the GAO means by “prejudice.”
When many people think of small business federal contractors, they probably picture a local business and not a subsidiary of a foreign entity. But this image isn’t always accurate—small business federal contractors don’t often neatly fit in the mold of local, mom-and-pop shops.
The SBA’s small business regulations confirm this to be true. Indeed, to qualify as a small business for most federal contracting purposes, a company can be a subsidiary of a foreign firm—so long as certain criteria are met. This point was recently affirmed by the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals, when it found that a domestic affiliate of an international conglomerate qualified as a small business.
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As a general rule, an agency is only required to evaluate a fixed-price offer for reasonableness (that is, whether the price is too high). Agencies are not required to evaluate fixed-price offers for realism (that is, whether the price is too low) and, in fact, cannot do so unless the solicitation advises offerors that a realism evaluation will be conducted.
GAO recently reaffirmed this principle when it denied a protest challenging an agency’s refusal to consider the realism of offerors’ fixed prices as part of a corrective action, even though the agency suspected that at least one offeror’s price was unrealistically low.
Debriefings play a vital role in the procurement process. When conducted fully and fairly, a debriefing provides an offeror with valuable insight into the strengths and shortcomings of its proposal, thus enabling the offeror to improve its offering under future solicitations. But when an agency provides only a perfunctory debriefing, the process can be virtually worthless–and may actually encourage an unsuccessful offeror to file a bid protest.
With this in mind, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently issued a memorandum that urges agencies to strengthen the debriefing process. In doing so, OFPP has encouraged agencies to adopt a debriefing guide that will help facilitate effective and efficient debriefings.
Under the Competition in Contracting Act, the Government Accountability Office is required to issue an annual report to Congress that summarizes the “most prevalent grounds” of sustained protests, identifies the instances in which GAO was not able to decide a protest within its 100-day deadline, and list any protest where the agency did not follow GAO’s recommendations.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act doubles down on this first requirement: it mandates that GAO provide Congress with a list of the most common grounds for sustaining protests. This only begs the question: why would Congress require GAO to do something it’s already required to do (and that it’s already doing)?
Earlier this year, we wrote about an interesting issue brewing in federal contracting: whether the logic behind the Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision in Kingdomware Technologies means that the Small Business Act’s rule of two is mandatory for acquisitions under Federal Supply Schedules. In other words, does the Small Business Act require agencies to set aside orders under the FSS when two or more small business are likely to submit competitive offers?
The SBA believes that the rule of two (see FAR 19.502-2) is mandatory for such orders. GAO has disagreed, saying instead that the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 and the exclusion of FSS contracts from the application of FAR Part 19 (see FAR 8.405-5(a)(1)(i)) make the small business rule of two discretionary for these orders.
This conflict—GAO believing the Small Business Act’s rule of two is discretionary for orders placed under multiple-award contracts; SBA believing it is mandatory—has existed for several years. But now the SBA is using the Supreme Court’s recent decision to bolster its case: according to a recent SBA internal memorandum, Kingdomware requires the small business rule of two to be given mandatory effect, at least with respect to orders valued between $3,500 and $150,000.