26 protests of $11.5B training contract kicks off busy summer of IT

The summer of 2016 will be known from this point forward as the “summer of the billion dollar IT contract.”

The number of large, multiple-award technology contracts agencies are recompeting or launching, and expected to award is extraordinary.

While many could easily argue this five-year event started last fall with the release of several requests for proposals (RFPs), the activity level will get hot and heavy as agencies make awards and unsuccessful bidders file protests.

Let’s start with the four-year saga that is the Human Capital and Training Solutions (HCaTS). The $11.5 billion contract that the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management awarded to 109 large and small businesses is under protest — no surprise here.

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The Government Accountability Office says 11 large firms and 15 small firms submitted complaints about GSA’s process.

GAO has 100 days to decide, which places decisions somewhere in the late August to early September timeframe, based on when the vendor filed its protest.

In the meantime, the contract is on hold, according to a GSA spokesperson.

“We look forward to a speedy resolution of these issues so that we may move forward with providing federal agencies with tailored training and development, human capital strategy, and organizational performance improvement services through the HCaTS contracts,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Brian Friel, a principle at One Nation Analytics, said most of the protests are because of clerical or minor errors made by the unsuccessful vendors.

He said GSA used a similar evaluation system to the one it used for the OASIS professional services contract where vendors scored themselves based on a set of predetermined criteria. Friel said GSA was expected to take the top 40 scores and award those companies contracts. But GSA disqualified many of the vendors for what he and the agency call minor mistakes.

One example I was told about concerned one company that mislabeled its DVDs and GSA threw them out saying they didn’t meet one of the requirements.

“The agency has the discretion to be picky, and I’m not sure GAO will side with protestors because it’s easy to make the argument that companies need to be compliant and that’s important,” Friel said. “Now, GSA could pull back the awards and see who is in compliance beyond the minor mistakes. If they had not been so picky and let people fix the paperwork problems, they would’ve allowed them to fill the pools and the winners would’ve been the most qualified companies. But by throwing out companies on compliance issues, you undermine the idea you selected most qualified pool of vendors.”

But others following this acquisition disagree that these were just clerical errors.

“In GSA’s previous use of this quantitative-style evaluation methodology for GSA OASIS, there were almost 20 protests. GSA prevailed on those protests so there is a likelihood they will prevail on HCaTS as well,” said an industry source, who requested anonymity because they are bidding on the contract.

The HCaTS protests likely will kick off a busy summer for GAO as awards and RFPs ramp up.

Let’s start with a recent award. The U.S. Cyber Command picked seven vendors for its $460 million multiple award contract for cyberspace operations and support.

Friel said among the RFPs scheduled to be released or awarded this summer are several high dollar, large multiple award IT contracts, including probably the biggest one in the last five years, GSA’s Alliant 2.

He said the current Alliant and Alliant small business contracts are bringing in about $4 billion a year in obligations. Agencies have awarded more than $22 billion since 2009.

Friel said he expects GSA to award Alliant 2 by the fall of 2017 so as to provide about 18 months of overlap with Alliant.

“IT is where it’s at this year and next year it will be more on the professional services side,” he said.

Along with Alliant, the Defense Information Systems Agency’s ENCORE III contract already is engulfed in protests over its use of lowest price technically acceptable (LPTA). The 10-year, $17.5 billion multiple award contract is a follow-on for a broad array of IT services.

The Defense Logistics Agency is expected to make awards last this summer for its $6 billion J6 Enterprise Technology Services contract, while the Army is reviewing bids for its $15 billion IT Enterprise Solutions 3 — services contract.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also is expected to make awards under its Strategic Partners Acquisition Readiness Contract (SPARC) contract that should be worth $25 billion over 10 years.

Friel said both GSA’s 8(a) Stars 2 governmentwide acquisition contract and the National Institute of Health’s CIO-SP3 GWAC have on-ramps for new contractors this fall.

All of these contracts and many others mean contractors will have to sharpen their pencils, GAO will likely have to pay their attorneys overtime and there will be plenty of action to report on — so let’s get started.