GAO: Large Prime Deserved “Significant Weakness” For Unmet Small Business Goals

Some folks call it “October,” others prefer the more general “fall.”  But in my family, this time of year is better known as “protest season.”  So if you’re wondering where SmallGovCon has been the last few days, thank the government and its flurry of spending at the end of the fiscal year, which briefly led to a personal routine consisting almost entirely of of eating, sleeping (when my 1-year old daughter would allow it), and protesting.

While I have been busy protesting, the GAO has continued issuing bid protest decisions.  Recently, it held that a large prime contractor was appropriately assigned a “significant weakness” due to the prime’s failure to propose meeting two of five small business subcontracting goals.  I, for one, am happy to see another indication of a procuring agency putting teeth behind the small business subcontracting goals.

The GAO’s decision in Weibel Equipment, Inc., B-406888, B-406888.2 (Sept. 21, 2012) involved a solicitation to replace legacy radar systems at four Army test centers.  The solicitation was issued on an unrestricted basis, and included three factors: technical, performance risk, and cost/price.  The technical factor, in turn, included three sub-factors: radar system capability, integrated logistics support, and small business participation.

After evaluating competitive proposals, the GAO awarded the contract to General Dynamics C4 Systems.  Although General Dynamics was higher-priced, it received better scores on both the technical and performance risk factors.

Of note, General Dynamics received a “highly satisfactory” score on the small business participation sub-factor.  In contrast, Weibel was assigned a “significant weakness” for this sub-factor because it had not proposed to meet two of the five small business goals: overall small business participation and women-owned small business participation.  Weibel received a “marginal” overall score on the small business participation sub-factor.

Weibel filed a GAO bid protest, challenging many aspects of the evaluation, including its small business participation score.  The Army responded that Weibel had not provided any justification for failing to meet the small business goals, and stated, “[t]his indicates a substantial lack of commitment to utilization of small business.”  The GAO agreed, holding that Weibel had not presented any basis to conclude that the substantial weakness was not justified.  The GAO denied Weibel’s protest.

For small business subcontractors, the Weibel Equipment GAO bid protest decision is heartening.  In this procurement, the Army put some teeth behind its small business goals.  If more procuring agencies follow the Army’s lead, perhaps those large primes with poor small business records (you know who you are) will get the message, and take the small business subcontracting goals a little more seriously themselves.

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