Multiple protests and a string of amendments across two recent multibillion-dollar, government-wide acquisition contracts highlight several systemic issues with the way federal agencies solicit those deals, such as how bids are scored, experts said.
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GWACs are large, multiple-award contracts administered by one agency but usable across the federal government, covering commonly-used items and services, such as IT or professional services. They are part of the government’s “category management” program, intended to allow it to leverage its immense buying power and avoid the administrative burdens of running multiple smaller contracts, and are frequently used by the government because of those perceived advantages.

A common method used in recent GWACs for choosing contractors, including for both CIO-SP4 and Polaris, is a self-scoring model where bidders assign themselves points based on criteria chosen by the agency, with the top-scoring bidders then selected for a pre-defined number of slots.

That model can lead to bidders essentially being required to game the system to maximize their scores, using teaming arrangements or proposed approaches that allow them to secure points without making any difference to how successful their actual work would be, according to Cy Alba, a partner at PilieroMazza PLLC who represented companies in several CIO-SP4 protests and has been closely tracking both GWACs.

“I think people are frustrated, because you’re looking at these big [requests for proposal], especially the ones that have self-scoring, and you’re seeing just all these checkboxes, which are in many ways just literally a checkbox [with] no meaningful relationship to how things are going to be performed,” he said.

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“I think what [the Small Business Administration] probably doesn’t realize, and frankly, what a lot of people didn’t realize, or I didn’t realize until I started hearing from different sides of the issue, is that everybody doesn’t want to go into mentor-protege [programs],” Alba said. “People want to go out on their own, and they feel like they’re almost forced into [mentorships] at this point.”
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And as long as mentor-protege arrangements continue to have a perceived or actual advantage for small businesses who want to participate in GWACs, the Small Business Administration might also have to confront the policy question of how to address the competing needs of those who want to be in mentor-protege arrangements and those who want to go it alone, according to Alba of PilieroMazza.

“That’s tough. It’s almost like you would need a separate set aside category for mentor-protege arrangements,” he said.

Excerpt taken from the article “Protests Highlight Systemic Issues With Gov’t-Wide Contracts” by Daniel Wilson for Law360. Visit this link to view the full article (subscription required).