By Julia Di Vito

Several government agencies, including the Department of Energy (“DOE”), utilize a web portal called FedConnect to receive bid proposals. While these agencies surely intended that using FedConnect would make the procurement process easier, the FedConnect systems appears to have caused several issues for contractors.

Since 2012, the GAO has heard at least three bid protests regarding DOE procurements that involved with issues submitting proposals through FedConnect. The GAO decisions in these cases are particularly instructive for any contractors planning to bid on contracts that will require the use of FedConnect.

First, in Onsite OHS (“Onsite”), B-406449 (2012), the protester failed to submit its proposal through FedConnect’s “response center” but instead submitted its proposal as an attachment to a message sent through FedConnect’s “message center.”  Had Onsite read the FedConnect Tutorial on how to use the web portal to submit proposals, it would have realized that submitting a proposal through the message center was not the proper way to submit a proposal. Because DOE did not check the message center prior to the due date of proposals, and did not see Onsite’s proposal until months after proposals were due, the GAO concluded that Onsite’s proposal was not timely received by the agency. Moreover, the GAO noted that it was the protester’s obligation to educate itself on how to use the FedConnect system, and Onsite did not read the FedConnect Tutorial or otherwise learn how to use the system.

Similarly, in AECOM Technical Services, Inc. (“AECOM”), B-411862 (2015), the protester also submitted its proposal through FedConnect’s message center. However, in this case, DOE did check the message center prior to the due date of proposals, and noticed that AECOM submitted its proposal incorrectly through the message center. DOE sent a message back to AECOM through the FedConnect message center regarding the improper submission, but AECOM never checked the message center again and never viewed DOE’s message. The GAO concluded that unlike in the Onsite protest, AECOM’s proposal was timely received by DOE as evidenced by DOE’s message to AECOM regarding the submission of its proposal prior to the time proposals were due. 

Finally, in Johnson Controls Government Systems, LLC (“Johnson Controls”), B-411862.2 (2015), the protester did attempt to submit its proposal through the FedConnect response center, but did not succeed. Johnson Controls uploaded its various proposal sections to the response center, and stopped when the FedConnect system showed its proposal as “in progress,” erroneously assuming that “in progress” meant that DOE was reviewing its proposal. Johnson Controls failed to click the “Submit Response to Agency” button which would have officially submitted its proposal to DOE – until it obtained technical assistance from FedConnect five days after the due date for proposals. The GAO concluded that Johnson Controls’ proposal was not timely, because until Johnson Controls clicked “Submit Response to Agency,” the proposal was still under its own control.

These protests demonstrate that as with any method of submitting proposals, you must pay close attention to ensure a proposal is submitted properly and on time. If you must use a system like FedConnect, ensure the person responsible for submitting the proposal is familiar with all of the steps necessary to complete submission, and make sure you have enough time to deal with any issues that arise. And perhaps DOE or other agencies will heed the GAO’s advice in the AECOM protest to “consider providing more robust guidance on the use of the FedConnect system in future solicitations.” 

About the Author: Julia Di Vito practices in the areas of government contracts, litigation, employment, and labor. She may be reached at [email protected].