Ring Ring! GAO Sustains Protest of Awardee’s Conflict of Interest

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.

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GAO: Exclusion Improper Because Former Official Didn’t Have Competitive Information

Hiring former government officials can sometimes be tricky business for contractors. As we discussed in a previous post, this is particularly true if the former official, based on work at an agency, could give the contractor a leg up in a specific procurement.

But hiring a former government official isn’t always a problem. And as a recent GAO decision illustrates, as long as the former official doesn’t have competitively useful, non-public information, an agency shouldn’t exclude an offeror from competition merely because it employs a former government official.

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GAO: Agency Didn’t Reasonably Evaluate a Potential OCI

In all competitive procurements, agencies must identify and analyze, as soon as possible, whether a potential contractor has an actual or potential organizational conflict of interest. (OCIs come in three general varieties: unequal access to information, biased ground rules, and impaired objectivity.) If the agency finds one, it must avoid, neutralize, or mitigate the potential OCI to ensure fairness.

As one recent GAO decision illustrates, an agency’s failure to reasonably investigate a potential OCI can lead to a sustained protest.

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