Bid Protest Weekly Newsletter by Bryan R. King, Attorney, General Counsel PC
Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2013, 7:00pm EST
J. Squared Inc., d/b/a University Loft Company, B-408388, August 27, 2013
Earlier this year, we discussed a case in which GAO held that agencies must have adequate justification in order to maintain loyalty to one particular brand. There, it was determined that the agency did not have adequate justification to limit its procurement to one brand. Recently, however, GAO held that where an agency is making a decision regarding the décor of its facilities, there is adequate justification to limit the procurement to products that meet the agency’s preferred style.
In J. Squared Inc., d/b/a University Loft Company, the Department of the Army was seeking to purchase furniture for Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Solicitation required offerors to propose furniture made from oak. The protester argued that limiting the requirement to oak furniture was unduly restrictive of competition, and that it should have been allowed to propose furniture made from EFT (rubber wood).
The Army argued that it had adequate justification to limit its requirements to only oak furniture. The Army explained to GAO that in 1997, it implemented a standard for the procurement of wooden furniture in its barracks buildings and installations, ultimately deciding to limit such procurements to oak furniture. The goals behind this initiative were to procure durable furniture, and to standardize the wooden furniture across the Army.
The record established that standardization of wooden furniture across the Army served several purposes. First, the standardization allowed the wooden furniture to be interchangeable between barracks buildings and installations, which was necessary given the Army’s frequently changing strategic needs. Also, the standardization assisted soldiers in their transition to new locations. The Army reasoned that when a soldier is transferred to a new location, the familiar furniture would help them feel at home in their new environment.
This protest ultimately came down to the agency’s taste in furniture, as the Army presented evidence that it found the EFT furniture to be “less aesthetically pleasing” than oak furniture. GAO agreed with the Army’s subjective viewpoint on interior decoration, as its examination of the record led to a conclusion that the protester did not adequately show that its EFT furniture was aesthetically equivalent to oak furniture. GAO determined that the Army was reasonable in determining the EFT furniture did not meet its requirement for standardization. GAO concluded that standardization of furniture across the Army was a legitimate reason for requiring oak furniture, and thus the protest was denied.