Task Order Procurement Decision Not Protestable, Says Federal Court

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims lacks jurisdiction to hear a challenge to an agency’s decision to procure services by way of a task-order competition under a government-wide acquisition contract.

In MORI Associates, Inc., No. 13-671C (2013), the Court held that it lacked authority to consider whether an agency’s decision to procure services by way of a task order competition under a GWAC–rather than under the GSA Schedule–was improper.

The MORI Associates case arose out of a National Institutes of Health procurement for IT services.  After MORI’s incumbent contract for the services expired, NIH stated that it anticipated issuing a follow-on solicitation through a small business set-aside competition among GSA Schedule 70 holders.  MORI, a small GSA Schedule 70 holder, would have been eligible to compete.  However, NIH subsequently elected to procure the IT services through a task order competition under the CIO-SP3 GWAC.

MORI filed a bid protest with the GAO, arguing that the agency’s decision to use CIO-SP3 was arbitrary and undertaken in bad faith.  The GAO dismissed the protest, stating that it lacked jurisdiction to decide the matter.  MORI then filed a similar protest with the Court.

The Court wrote that as a general matter, it has jurisdiction to decide actions filed by an interested party involving a procurement or proposed procurement.  However, an exception exists stating that a “protest is not authorized in connection with the issuance or proposed issuance of a task or delivery order,” except in circumstances not relevant to MORI’s protest.

The Court wrote that the jurisdictional question before it was “whether MORI’s protest of the decision to use the task order vehicle instead of a GSA Schedule 70 competition is a protest ‘in connection with'” the proposed issuance of a task or delivery order.  “Upon careful reflection,” the Court wrote, “it is not even a close question.”

The Court held that “when a protest challenges the decision to obtain services by requesting proposals from indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity task order contract holders, the FASA prohibition on protests clearly applies.”  Because the prohibition applied to MORI, the Court dismissed MORI’s protest.

The MORI Associates case demonstrates how difficult it can be for contractors to fight procurement decisions involving task orders.  As I have previously written, like the Court of Federal Claims, the GAO also has strict limits on its ability to hear such protests.  In tandem, the restrictions can lead aggrieved contractors without a viable avenue of relief.

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