Sex, Lies, & Bid Protests: Adultery-Based Challenge Fails at GAO

An alleged adulterous relationship between a Navy program manager and a contractor support employee did not provide a basis to challenge the Navy’s award to a different contractor.

The GAO’s recent decision in Harris IT Services Corporation, B-408546.2, B-408546.3 (Oct. 31, 2013) involved more salacious allegations  than one typically encounters in a bid protest case, but the GAO’s ruling was no surprise: after all, the awardee was not the company employing the allegedly unfaithful employee.

The Harris IT Services bid protest decision involved a Navy solicitation for intranet services at locations worldwide.  The solicitation informed offerors that the Navy intended to use Booz Allen Hamilton, along with other identified contractors, to assist in the source selection process.

Three companies, including Harris IT Services Corporation, submitted proposals.  After evaluating competitive proposals, the Navy made award to Hewlett Packard.

Shortly after the award decision was announced, the Navy relieved the relevant program manager from his duties.  The Navy’s action was based on an internal investigation, which concluded that the program manager had “been having an adulterous relationship” with a BAH employee in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Harris subsequently filed a GAO bid protest challenging the award to Hewlett Packard.  Harris alleged, in part, that the award was improper due to the personal relationship between the program manager and the BAH employee.  Harris argued that the Navy did not investigate whether the program manager’s unprofessional conduct “extended beyond his improper relationship with the contractor employee” and that the Contracting Officer “should have investigated” whether the program manager or the BAH employee “stood to benefit” if Hewlett Packard won the award.

The GAO wrote that Harris’s protest filings “have failed to draw any logical connection between the ‘adulterous relationship’ of the Navy program manager and the Booz Allen Hamilton employee, and Harris’s assertion that the selection of Hewlett Packard was somehow improper.”  The GAO pointed out that Harris “has failed to provide any information that in any way suggests that either of these individuals had any association with Hewlett Packard.”  In the absence of any such information, the GAO wrote that Harris’s allegation failed to state a valid basis of protest, and dismissed it. The GAO denied Harris’s remaining arguments.

The Harris IT Services bid protest decision may draw some attention because of its unusual allegations.  (This is the first, and probably last time, that the word “adultery” will appear in SmallGovCon).  However, the underlying principle is readily apparent: the fact that a government employee may have engaged in unrelated unprofessional conduct is insufficient to support a bid protest.

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