FedBizOpps Searches: Be Thorough (Or Be Out Of Luck)

If one type of FedBizOpps search does not turn up a solicitation, try a different search–or run the risk of missing the solicitation.

That is the message to contractors from a recent GAO bid protest decision, in which an offeror was unable to discover a VA opportunity by searching the “Place of Performance” field on FedBizOpps.  As it turned out, the solicitation would have popped up if the offeror had tried other types of FedBizOpps searches, and the GAO held that it was the offeror’s responsibility to more thoroughly attempt to locate the solicitation.

In The Creative Mobility Group, LLC, B-410380.2 (Dec. 19, 2014), the VA issued a request for quotations for home medical equipment services for patients of Veterans Integrated Service Network 11 medical facilities in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.  The VA posted the opportunity on the FedBizOpps website.

The FedBizOpps posting included certain relevant information regarding the procurement, including the applicable NAICS code, the VISN to be served, and searchable terms such as “home medical equipment.”  However, because the work was to be performed at patients’ residences, the VA elected not to include place of performance as a searchable term.

The Creative Mobility Group, LLC was the incumbent contract providing services to beneficiaries in Michigan.  CMG’s incumbent contract was set to expire on September 30, 2014.

CMG apparently had been anticipating the issuance of a follow-on solicitation, and had been searching for the solicitation on FedBizOpps using the place of performance field.  Because the VA had not populated that field, CMG did not discover the solicitation.

On September 9, CMG contacted the contracting officer to inquire about the follow-on solicitation.  The contracting officer informed CMG that the solicitation had already been issued and that the deadline for the submission of quotes had passed.

CMG filed a protest with the GAO.  CMG argued that it was unreasonable for the VA to exclude any place of performance from the FedBizOpps posting.  CMG asserted that, at a minimum, the VA should have selected Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, or Ohio as the place of performance.

In response to the protest, the VA explained its rationale for omitting a place of performance on the FedBizOpps listing.  Further, the VA argued that the published solicitation was easily retrievable using any of several other relevant terms in various other search categories on the FedBizOpps.

The GAO noted that “[t]he Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 generally requires contracting agencies to obtain full and open competition through the use of competitive procedures.”  In order to ensure full and open competition, “a contracting agency must use reasonable methods to publicize its procurement needs and to timely disseminate solicitation documents to those entitled to receive them. ”  However, “for a protest against an agency’s solicitation dissemination to be sustained, a prospective contractor must demonstrate that it availed itself of every reasonable opportunity to obtain the solicitation documents.”

The GAO pointed out that the FedBizOpps website cautions users about the limitations of searches when the place of performance field is used.  The website contains the following notice:

Please note, there may be opportunities FBO did not recognize by this search.  The results returned are based on agency input.  If for any reason the submitting agency did not enter the Place of Performance location information, the system will not return that opportunity in the results.

In CMG’s case, it “failed to heed this warning,” and relied exclusively on the place of performance field.  The GAO concluded that solicitation “was easily obtainable from FBO using a variety of applicable search terms that reasonably should have been known to” CMG.  For example, CMG would have discovered the solicitation by a search using the home health care NAICS code or a search for VISN 11.  Thus, the VA’s omission of data from the place of performance field “did not deprive [CMG] of the ability to reasonably find the solicitation.”  The GAO denied CMG’s protest.

The GAO decision in The Creative Mobility Group, LLC is a cautionary tale for prospective offerors.  As the case demonstrates, thorough FedBizOpps searches may be required to discover a solicitation.  Anything less may not meet the offeror’s obligation to exhaust all reasonable efforts to obtain the solicitation.

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