On May 13, 2022, the General Services Administration (GSA) published draft proposed changes to the Polaris Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC). Specifically, the agency is proposing to revise Section L.188.8.131.52 of the request for proposals (RFP), dealing with joint ventures, after reviewing industry feedback and engaging with the Small Business Administration (SBA). GSA emphasized that the language is in draft form and is subject to change. Most importantly, members of the small business information technology community are encouraged to provide feedback to Polaris@gsa.gov by May 23, 2022.
GSA’s first change would mandate that offerors who bid as part of SBA-approved mentor-protégé joint venture (MPJV) arrangements must include at least one primary relevant experience project or emerging technology relevant experience project from the protégé and no more than three primary relevant experience projects from the mentor.
The second change would require joint venture offerors to submit a description of the previous work and qualifications of each joint venture partner as well as any previous work done by the joint venture itself. The description also must state whether any partner or the joint venture itself lacks previous work experience or qualifications.
The first change would make the language in the Polaris RFP nearly identical to that in the Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4) GWAC. This could be the agency’s approach to limiting new companies with little to no experience from relying solely on an established mentor while still allowing MPJVs to rely on their mentors somewhat during the bidding process. The law is not entirely clear as to the amount of experience that an agency can require, so the test could come down to whether the required amount is reasonable to meet the government’s needs or whether it unduly restricts competition.
As for the second change, GSA could use the statements of inexperience to distinguish among offerors and perhaps remove or downgrade joint ventures that have a managing or qualified member with little to no experience. For instance, if a joint venture qualifies as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB), but the SDVOSB member has no experience, GSA could use this new RFP language to support the downgrading of that joint venture’s proposal, or use it in some other fashion consistent with the RFP evaluation criteria to note the increased level of risk that may exist if an award is made to such a joint venture. The reasonableness of this approach would depend on the facts, but it seems like a compromise that GSA is adopting because some companies want it to allow full reliance on mentors while others want it to impose a limit. It is important for contractors to submit comments because the final language could determine whether Polaris will rise like a phoenix or just get caught in a conflagration similar to the situation with CIO-SP4.
If you have questions about this announcement or need to discuss your contracting strategy, contact Cy Alba, the author of this client alert, or other members of the Government Contracts Group at PilieroMazza.