Protest puts FedBizOpps upgrade in limbo

FedBizOpps by the numbers

The new system must:

  • Support at least 1 million users

  • Archive at least 1 million documents per year

  • Store and process 50,000 new documents per month

  • Conduct online searches within 10 seconds.

FedBizOpps lists more than 500,000 contract opportunities from more than 22,000 government buyers at 100 federal agencies, and has 500,000 registered contractors.

'The [protesters] will have to justify why GSA should pay more, even if it is for more capabilities. It is like deciding whether to buy a Chevy or Cadillac.'

'Chip Mather

Two bidders claiming the General Services Administration unfairly evaluated their bids for the right to upgrade could be facing an uphill battle, according to a procurement expert.

Chip Mather, a principal with Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va., and a former Air Force IT acquisition chief, said the Government Accountability Office traditionally sides with agencies when they choose a technically acceptable low bid'as was the case with GSA's decision last month to award a $17.4 million contract to Symplicity Corp. of Arlington, Va.

'The government has significant discretion in using the best-value award process,' Mather said. 'The bidders will have to justify why GSA should pay more, even if it is for more capabilities. It is like deciding whether to buy a Chevy or Cadillac.'

Information Sciences Corp. of Silver Spring, Md., and Devis Corp. of Arlington, Va., protested to GAO on the grounds that GSA did not follow the criteria listed in the request for proposals.

'After a year of review, GSA has decided to go with the low-price heart surgeon, which was inconsistent with what the solicitation called for,' said William Shook, a partner with Preston Gates Ellis LLP and legal counsel to ISC.

GAO has until Oct. 3 to rule on the complaint, and then GSA must decide whether to follow the audit agency's recommendations, one of which could be reopening the contract to bidders.

'We are in receipt of the protest. It is not proper for us to discuss a pending legal matter,' a GSA spokeswoman said.

In the meantime, FedBizOpps, which is the sole source of every RFP worth more than $25,000 from more than 100 federal agencies, will continue under the previous contract held by Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, awarded in November 2000. ISC is a subcontractor to SAIC on the current contract.

Symplicity, which also developed the online application for the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business Development program, beat out three other small-business bidders for the small-business set-aside contract. The deal is for three years, with five one-year options. A spokeswoman said GSA's Integrated Acquisition Environment project team will manage the transition to Symplicity's system, which should happen before Dec. 31.

Symplicity's bid was technically acceptable and the lowest price. Sources said the firm's bid was more than $30 million cheaper than the highest bid.

But because GSA evaluated Symplicity to be technically acceptable, the protesters must show that GSA abused their discretion, and that is difficult, Mather said.

'If GSA followed the rules and regulations, then it is a matter of discretion and I would agree with GSA,' Mather said. 'I would rather defend the technically acceptable, but less expensive, award than a more expensive one.'

GSA also might have been constrained by the amount of money it has to spend on the FedBizOpps upgrade. Sources familiar with FedBizOpps said agencies fund the site through the Integrated Acquisition Environment e-government project, and funds are limited because of the other systems on IAE's wish list.

The lower price also could be attributed to GSA's request for new technology and a new platform, sources said.

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