An agency failed to meet its obligations to properly publicize a simplified acquisition valued between $15,000 and $25,000 where the agency placed the solicitation in a three-ring binder at the reception desk in a government office–and that office was closed during most of the relevant time.
In a recent decision, the GAO affirmed that principle that even when the dollar value of a simplified acquisition doesn’t meet the requirement for electronic posting on FedBizOpps, the agency still must take reasonable steps to maximize competition.
GAO’s decision in Bluehorse Corp., B-413533 (Oct. 28, 2016) involved a Bureau of Indian Affairs solicitation for diesel fuel for a school district served by the BIA in New Mexico.
After identifying an emergency need for the diesel fuel, the BIA prepared an RFQ on Saturday, July 30. The RFQ was prepared under the procedures for the streamlined acquisition of commercial items under FAR 12.6, and called for a performance period of delivery from August 2, 2016 through April 30, 2017.
The RFQ stated that because it was an “emergency requirement,” the deadline for receipt of quotations would be August 1, 2016. Since the contracting officer did not expect the award to meet the FAR’s threshold for electronic posting on FedBizOpps ($25,000), she instead sent the RFQ by email to three firms she had identified as eligible Indian Economic Enterprises.
In addition to sending the RFQ to the three IEEs, the contracting officer placed a copy of the RFQ in a three-ring binder kept at a reception desk of the BIA Navajo Region Contracting Office in Gallup, New Mexico. That office was closed on Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31.
The BIA received two quotations by August 1. Both quotations were from vendors who had received the RFQ by email. The BIA awarded the contract to one of those vendors at a price of $20,800.
After learning of the award, Bluehorse Corporation filed a GAO bid protest. Bluehorse (which was not one of the three firms that had been sent the RFQ by email) argued that it was eligible to compete for the contract and capable of supplying the diesel fuel, but had been denied a fair opportunity to compete. In particular, Bluehorse contended that the BIA failed to publicize the requirement properly, which effectively precluded Bluehorse from submitting a quotation.
The GAO wrote that when a procurement is expected to be valued between $15,000 and $25,000, the contracting officer must “display . . . in a public place, or by any appropriate electronic means, an unclassified notice of the solicitation or a copy of the solicitation,” and that the solicitation “must remain posted for at least 10 days or until after quotations have been opened, whichever is later.”
In this case, the GAO held, the BIA did not properly publicize the RFQ:
The BIA’s actions here fell short of the minimum standards for obtaining maximum practicable competition when using simplified acquisition procedures with respect to both publication of the requirement and soliciting sources. We do not regard the Saturday placement of the solicitation in a binder, in an office that was effectively closed to the public on a weekend, for quotations that were due by 2 p.m. on Monday, as meeting the requirement for public posting.
The GAO held that “the BIA’s actions fail to show appropriate concern for fair and equitable competition,” and sustained Bluehorse’s protest.
Competition is the cornerstone of the government contracting process, even for most simplified acquisitions. As the Bluehorse protest demonstrates, even simplified acquisitions between $15,000 and $25,000 must be reasonably publicized to allow for competition.