As federal contractors begin to become engaged in multiple programs for a particular agency, the potential for the firm to encounter a situation where it finds itself involved in an organizational conflict of interest (OCI) may increase. This is particularly true with respect to “impaired objectivity” OCI, which is when a firm’s ability to render impartial advice to the government is or might be undermined by the firm’s competing interests. These OCIs often arise in service contracts where the contractor is placed in a position of evaluating its own performance on other contracts.
In a recent case, GAO found that an agency’s award of a contract created an impermissible impaired objectivity OCI for a contractor from two different perspectives for services that the contractor provided in the capacity as both a prime and subcontractor for an agency. The case is Steel Point Solutions, LLC B-419709,B-419709.2 (July 07, 2021).
While most of our get-togethers these days involve mask wearing, social distancing, and even virtual happy hours, spending time with friends is a great way to keep spirits light. Unfortunately for one group of friends, their weekly hangouts led GAO to conclude in its recent decision, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc., B-418835 (Sept. 25, 2020), that NASA had to cancel a more than $650 million deal and start the procurement process all over.
Agencies have broad discretion when it comes to evaluating potential organizational conflicts of interest–but that discretion isn’t unlimited. In a recent decision involving a fight between two telecommunications giants, the GAO sustained the protest, holding that the the agency unreasonably concluded that there was no possibility of an “impaired objectivity” OCI arising from the award.
When a procuring agency knows of an apparent organizational conflict of interest, but makes no effort to resolve the issue, the resulting award is improper.
In a recent GAO bid protest decision, GAO held that it is impermissible for an agency to simply ignore a known conflict (or apparent conflict). Interestingly, GAO never determined whether the conflict helped or hurt the business’s efforts at winning the award. It said essentially that it did not matter. Because a conflict existed, the agency knew about it, and did nothing, the award was flawed.
Is it a conflict of interest for a contractor’s former employee to evaluate his old firm’s competitive proposal? Not necessarily, according to the GAO.
In a recent GAO bid protest decision, the agency’s technical evaluation board included a member who had previously worked for the winning offeror. As one might expect, this did not sit particularly well with one of the awardee’s competitors, which filed a GAO bid protest. The GAO’s ruling: there was no conflict of interest.