The political theater that is the presidential election season has us well accustomed to the daily barrage of polls and surveys each campaign is trumping. But it is a very different type of survey playing a key role in a massive Government IT contract awarded last year.
This past July, 29 firms were selected from a pool of 66 as eligible contractors for the $50 billion Alliant contract covering a broad range of government IT projects. Winners issued press releases, prepared for Agencies to begin using the contract, and no doubt rejoiced after spending hours, days, weeks preparing their bids.
A month later three unsuccessful bidders protested the General Services Administration (GSA) contract to the GAO. In September that list grew to eight. The winning bidders – names like AT&T, Alion Science and Technology, SAIC, Unisys, EDS, CACI Federal – dug in, waited for the outcome and hoped that the issues could be resolved.
One of the firms protesting its exclusion from the initial contract, Stanley, won its argument and became the 30th company on the contract. But on March 5 that single stride forward was erased by eight steps back when a Federal Judge ruled in favor of the protesting contractors – in effect halting the Alliant contract indefinitely.
The Judge backed many elements of the complaint, most notably the manner in which the polling firm validated references and researched the past performance of contract bidders, and whether or not quality assurance checks were in place to ensure that the survey questions yielded valuable information.
Where the Alliant contract goes from here after the opinion released March 5 is unclear. Judge Francis M. Allegra of the U.S. Federal Claims Court wrote that his decision would not “prevent [GSA] and all or some of the plaintiffs from mutually agreeing to resolve this matter in such fashion as they deem appropriate.” One could interpret this to mean that the contract could be refashioned to include protesting bidders, though based on the Federal Judge’s ruling that would leave the door open for other unsuccessful bidders to seek a piece.
What is clear is that all 66 bidders share a common objective: to help the Federal government achieve its program goals. The protest may halt this effort in the short term, but if it forces changes that improve the process in the long term then perhaps interested parties can extract some value from the experience.