Proving that an agency acted improperly in its source selection process can be a difficult task for any protester. In theory, for a best value tradeoff decision, the agency’s decision and the process to come to that decision seems easy: the agency does a tradeoff between cost and non-cost factors, and that which is most advantageous to the government is awarded. How hard could it be? And the decisions handed down by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Court of Federal Claims (COFC) seem to confirm that it isn’t that hard, seeing as many cases challenging a best value decision are denied. This is, in large part, due to the discretion agencies are afforded in their source selection decisions. Whether an agency conducts discussions during the source selection process is one of many procurement factors that is left up to the agency’s discretion. But, every so often, a decision comes along to prove that there are limits to an agency’s discretion, and in this case, the agency’s discretion overstepped its bounds with its price reasonableness decision and the unjustified decision to not perform discussions.Continue reading
Author Archives: Stephanie Ellis
GAO Sustain: Agency Failed to Document Prior Experience Evaluation
Source selection decisions are often a point of contention for federal government contractors, and rightfully so. Contractors spend large amounts of time and resources putting together a bid in a competition that likely doesn’t have room to make an award to each bidder. This usually results in one or more awardees, as well as one or more disappointed bidders. Naturally, those disappointed bidders often question whether the agency’s source selection decision, and its method for getting there, was appropriate. Unfortunately, the only way of truly discerning whether that decision was correct is to spend more time and resources protesting the decision. With a 51% effectiveness rate in 2022 (counting sustains and corrective actions), according to GAO’s annual bid protest report, it can be difficult to determine whether to even go forward with a protest when things don’t seem to add up. But, as a recent protest demonstrates, agencies make mistakes, and in this case, the fatal flaw was failure to adequately document its decision.Continue reading
New Report Unveils Magnitude of Fraud in SBA COVID-19 Relief Programs
Whether we want to or not, the country will continue to feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for years to come in a multitude of ways. Many actions were taken by the government in the early days to help United States’ citizens through the largely unprecedented times, particularly to help support small businesses. As I’m sure many small business owners would say, the assistance offered through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program was critical to small business owners who, in the early days of 2020, were suddenly facing an unknown future. As closures and restrictions were put into place from every level of government in a bid to try to protect Americans from the novel virus, hospitals and their staff, doctors, and scientists all scrambled to contain the virus and determine the best path forward.
PPP and EIDL applications flooded the SBA in the hopes that the assistance offered through these programs would help to prevent millions of small businesses from sinking under the weight of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the roughly $1.2 trillion in assistance provided by the programs, while good-intentioned and critical to many small business owners’ chances of survival, was not immune to massive levels of fraud. In a report released on January 30, 2023, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) details a breakdown of the fraud, what is being done about it, and safeguards to help prevent it from happening again.Continue reading
Back to Basics: Get in the Zone, The HUBZone
The SBA’s HUBZone Program, short for “Historically Underutilized Business Zone,” is likely the SBA program that we hear the least about. Tucked away in Title 13, Section 126 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, the HUBZone Program gives HUBZone participants benefits in multiple federal government contracting situations in an effort to revitalize historically underutilized business zones through increased employment opportunities, investments, and economic development. So, what exactly makes an area a HUBZone, and how can your small business be designated as a HUBZone participant? Read on to find out.Continue reading
GAO: Misrepresentation on Key Person Availability Sinks Proposal
Agencies rely on the representations made by offerors in their proposals to determine how capable each offeror is. In many cases, key personnel are so vital to an offeror’s chance of success that any change to the key personnel must be approved by the agency prior to such a change taking place. Logic follows that the risk of losing a possible award outweighs any benefit that may be reaped from stretching the truth. Nonetheless, from time to time an offeror will decide to give it a try, hoping that any inaccuracies will be overlooked, or will simply unintentionally misrepresent a detail. But, as one offeror learned, the possibility of such inaccuracies being discovered is high, and the end result is far from ideal.Continue reading
Breaking: SBA Proposed Rule Gives OHA Jurisdiction over HUBZone Status Protests
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has proposed to amend the rules of practice for its Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) and the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) Program to “implement procedures authorizing appeals to OHA” from adverse status determination protests for certified HUBZone small business concerns. Currently, HUBZone status protest determinations are decided by the Associate Administrator of Government Contracting and Business Development per 13 C.F.R. § 126.805. But those appeals, in our experience, are fairly limited and SBA does not publish the appeal decisions, meaning they provide little help for companies and attorneys wishing to understand how SBA interprets its HUBZone This is a big step for SBA and will certainly bring consistency and insights to the protest process and regulatory interpretation for HUBZone participants, bringing that program more in line with other SBA programs.
Goodbye PTAC, Hello APEX Accelerators
The Department of Defense (DOD) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Friday, December 2, 2022, in a bid to strengthen and expand small business development nationally. The most obvious immediate change is that the more than 90 Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC) will be renamed APEX Accelerators, and the DOD and SBA are hopeful that this rebranding will bring new life to the program, which provides free procurement assistance to small businesses that work with all levels of the government, whether federal, state, or local.Continue reading