OPM rejects GAO advice on portal contract

The Office of Personnel Management last week took the highly unusual step of rejecting a General Accounting Office recommendation, deciding not to recompete the contract for the Recruitment One-Stop Quicksilver Project.

In a letter to GAO, OPM general counsel Mark A. Robbins said it would be unwise to reopen the buy to update the usajobs.opm.gov Web site because it would be 'incompatible with the best interest of the federal government.'

Robbins said OPM needed to continue working with TMP Worldwide Government Services of New York because the agency already has paid TMP $4.8 million for work to reach the e-government project's first two milestones.

OPM now plans to launch the redesigned Web site by Sept. 30, said Norm Enger, OPM's e-government program director.

By dismissing GAO's recommendations, OPM likely will have to answer to Congress. GAO is required under the Competition in Contracting Act to inform the House Appropriations and Government Reform committees and the Senate Appropriations and Governmental Affairs committees of OPM's determination, said Dan Gordon, GAO's managing associate general counsel.

Agencies follow the audit agency's recommendations 98 percent of the time, Gordon added.

OPM has already started explaining its actions to Congress by meeting with staff members of the House Government Reform Committee. David Marin, a spokesman for committee chairman Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), said Davis 'remains deeply concerned with OPM's decision' and now will wait for GAO's report to the committee.

Procurement problems

'Davis will examine the options available and make a decision on the appropriate next step,' Marin said. 'Whatever decision is made'special legislation, recision or something else altogether'the goal will be to protect the integrity of the procurement process, which OPM has sullied in this instance.'

Disregarding GAO's recommendations puts the procurement system in 'jeopardy and taints the acquisition process,' Marin said.

The procurement problems began for OPM after it awarded a five-year contract in January to TMP.

Symplicity Corp. of Arlington, Va., a losing bidder for the contract, protested the $62 million deal.

GAO ruled that OPM should re-evaluate all bids to determine whether the proposed services were within the scope of the winning company's schedule contract, through which OPM had awarded the deal. GAO also recommended that OPM reopen discussions with all bidders in the competitive range and re-evaluate revised offers.

A Symplicity official, who requested anonymity, said the company is disappointed with OPM's decision not to follow GAO's recommendations, and the company is evaluating its options.

Robbins said Symplicity could file a lawsuit in the Court of Federal Claims and seek a restraining order to stop work on the contract.

That is unlikely, however said Joseph J. Petrillo, a lawyer with the Washington law firm of Petrillo & Powell and a GCN columnist.

'Symplicity has two problems: It is a small business, and going to the Court of Federal Claims is very expensive,' Petrillo said. 'The second is, at this stage, it will be much harder for them to get any kind of injunction because so much work has already been done. Symplicity is in a tough spot. It looks as though the contract was improperly awarded and, unfortunately, nothing will be done about it.'

OPM officials have admitted to erring in evaluating the bids, but Robbins said the error was harmless.

Gordon, though, contends that if the error was harmless, GAO would not have sustained the protest.

'We viewed the evaluation as prejudicing the protesters,' Gordon said.

Gordon said GAO would submit its report to the congressional committees shortly.

In the letter to the audit agency, Robbins also said OPM could not reopen negotiations because it would have been unfair to Symplicity and AT&T Corp., the other losing bidder.

'We could go back to square one and start over again, but that would be silly,' he said. 'If we do that, TMP could say we have a product that fits your needs and offer it to us for a dime and there is no way the other bidders could compete.'

OPM could have recompeted the integration and maintenance portion of the contract, but that would require access to TMP's source code, Robbins said, and TMP declined to provide a license.

'We don't take lightly the role of GAO in issuing recommendations,' Robbins said. 'We could have held off a few months or half a year to settle the issue if this was some rinky-dink program, but it was an administration priority, and we need to get it done.'

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