Link: GAO Opinion
Agencies: Department of Veterans Affairs
Disposition: Protest denied.
In September, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) posted a pre-solicitation notice advising of its intent to acquire a G.A. Braun Delta 3S32 ironer, available only from G.A. Braun, to be installed at the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua, New York. The notice advised that the contracting officer had determined that “the only reasonable source is G.A. Braun,” since “the item and size is only made by Braun and repairs and technical support is specific to G.A. Braun.” Chicago Dryer Company (CDC) then challenged the sole-source justification, asserting that it manufactures equipment that meets VA requirements. The VA countered by stating that its market research indicated that only an ironer manufactured by G.A. Braun could meet their requirements and that the sole-source was therefore justified.
Generally, the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) mandates “full and open competition” in government procurements obtained through the use of competitive procedures; however, there are several exceptions, including when an agency’s requirements can only be satisfied by one responsible source. The GAO has thus recognized that an agency’s legitimate need to standardize the equipment it uses may provide a reasonable basis for imposing restrictions on competition.
In this protest, CDC does not challenge the VA’s stated requirements for interoperability with installed Braun equipment at VAMC Canandaigua but, rather, states that it can supply equipment meeting those requirements. Typically, a protester challenging an agency’s sole-source determination on the basis that its product meets the agency’s needs has the burden of showing that this is the case. Here, CDC did not establish that it could provide a flatwork ironer meeting the VA’s needs. Additionally, and as identified by the VA, CDC asserted that it had provided equipment compatible with G.A. Braun equipment at other VA medical centers, but it did not provide any specific reference to an actual customer for which it provided an ironer compatible with the existing system.
As such, the GAO found that CDC had not shown an ability to supply a product that met the VA’s needs, and therefore there was no basis upon which it could question the issuance of the purchase order to Braun.