Competing against the incumbent contractor: What to do – and not do
Washington Business Journal by Lee Dougherty, Attorney, General Counsel PC
Competing against a company that has a long history with an agency can be tough, but the challenger can succeed if it offers an innovative proposal that is better and cheaper.
Protesting contractor: CISGi, Rockville
Contracting agency: National Science Foundation
Issue: Whether an agency’s rejection of a proposal by a company competing against a longtime contract holder was unreasonable
Decision: Denied by the Government Accountability Office, Nov. 6, 2012
Postmortem: Most of my clients have heard my advice on how to make money as a government contractor: Do something no one else does or do what others do but do it better and cheaper. If more government contractors would apply that simple guide they would be much more successful in identifying the contracts to pursue and in winning those contracts.
For contractors that rely on doing something no one else does, eventually some enterprising company will compete with them, in which case they need to show they can do the job better and cheaper than the competition nipping at their heals.
World Technology Evaluation Center Inc. of Baltimore was awarded a time-and-materials contract to provide support services for the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO). WTEC had been supporting the National Science Foundation for “an extended period,” including “more recently being the interim sole-source contractor.” CISGi was the only other contractor that submitted a proposal.
Knowing that the incumbent has been in place for a lengthy period and was subsequently given a sole-source award should raise many red flags for a contractor that wants to compete for the work. However, there are a host of potential protest issues when an incumbent is that entrenched in an agency.
CISGi raised many of those issues during the course of its protest, including allegations of favoritism and an impermissible conflict of interest. Unfortunately for CISGi, it did not raise those issues until long after they would have been considered timely protests by the GAO, and as a result the allegations were dismissed.
CISGi did raise several arguments that were considered by the GAO. The company said it should have been rated higher under the technical factor. But the agency found that CISGi’s proposal “failed to sufficiently explain how its management plan directly applied to the work of the NNCO.”
The GAO also stated “we have no basis to find the agency’s findings to be in conflict, or otherwise unreasonable.”
In another argument, CISGi contended that the weaknesses found in its software system were unreasonable. The GAO responded that there was “no basis to find the agency’s evaluation unreasonable.”
Lastly, CISGi argued that the determination that its proposed project manager lacked experience “managing tasks as large and as complex as those required” by the request for proposals was unreasonable. The GAO found “CISGi’s contention is without basis” and again said “we have no basis to question the reasonableness of the agency’s evaluation in this regard.”
CISGi could have avoided a substantial expenditure of time and money if it had heeded my guidance on making money as a government contractor.
The company tried, unsuccessfully, to compete with an incumbent that was deeply embedded in an agency. Contractors do it successfully every day, but they do it by presenting the agency with a proposal that absolutely cannot be rejected. They do it by offering a solution that is innovative, and they usually couple that with a lower cost to the government.
CISGi’s protest was a virtual act of futility based on its failure to adequately compete with the incumbent. Remember, do something no one else does, or do it better and cheaper, and you will be successful as a government contractor.