Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Defense Logistics Agency
Disposition: Protest denied.
Protest that specification requirement for lock-ring, demountable flange wheel design as part of retrofit systems for C-130 aircraft unduly restricts competition, improperly precluding protester from offering a tie-bolt, split-rim wheel design, is denied where agency reasonably determined that tie-bolt wheel will require significantly more time to maintain than a lock-ring wheel, such that it does not meet agency need for wheel design permitting efficient maintenance.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
MB asserts that the requirement for a lock-ring, demountable flange wheel design “which precludes MB from proposing a tie-bolt, split-rim wheel design” unduly restricts competition. According to the protester, an improved version of the tie-bolt design, using corrosion-resistant bolts, and thereby requiring less inspection, also will meet the agency’s needs. GAO states that contracting agencies have the discretion to determine their needs and the best method of accommodating them. However, agencies are required to specify their needs in a manner designed to achieve full and open competition, and may include restrictive requirements only to the extent they are necessary to satisfy their legitimate needs. Where a protester challenges a specification as unduly restrictive, the procuring agency must establish that the specification is reasonably necessary to meet its needs. A protester’s mere disagreement with the agency’s judgment concerning its needs and how to accommodate them is not sufficient to establish that the agency’s judgment is unreasonable. Further, where, as here, a requirement relates to national defense or human safety, an agency has the discretion to define solicitation requirements to achieve not just reasonable results, but the highest possible reliability and/or effectiveness.
In explaining the basis for the lock-ring specification requirement, DLA reports that Air Force experience with both designs indicates that lock-ring wheels have lower life-cycle costs; are logistically simpler to support; and offer improved maintainability over tie-bolt designs. In particular, according to DLA, the primary and most desired benefit of the lock-ring wheel design relative to the tie-bolt design is the more efficient maintenance possible with lock-ring wheels. In this regard, the agency reports that experience with F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, the earlier models of which are equipped with tie-bolt wheels and the later models with lock-ring wheels, indicates that tie-bolt wheels, on average, require 100% more time to maintain for F-15 aircraft and 50% more time for F-16 aircraft than lock-ring wheels. Further, the agency has furnished a video showing maintenance technicians breaking down (disassembling) and building up (reassembling) F-15 lock-ring and tie-bolt wheels. While the video shows the technicians requiring only 34 minutes 22 seconds to complete the process for the F-15 lock-ring wheels, it shows a time of one hour 15 minutes three seconds for technicians to partially complete the process for the F-15 tie-bolt wheels, with a further, approximately 30-minute required additional inspection not performed. In addition, the agency has furnished a video showing maintenance technicians disassembling and reassembling a tie-bolt wheel for the larger KC-135 aircraft; that process required one hour 29 minutes 28 seconds to partially complete, again not including the approximately 30-minute required additional inspection. The agency reports that the more efficient maintenance possible with the lock-ring design is particularly important due to the fact that C-130 aircraft are often deployed at austere forward operating locations under wartime conditions, requiring maintenance to be performed in the shortest possible timeframe.
MB argues that the agency’s concerns do not justify the restriction because it will propose a tie-bolt design that will meet the specification requirement for a mean time to repair of no more than one hour. In support of its assertion, the protester has furnished a video showing its maintenance technician disassembling and reassembling a C-130 tie-bolt wheel in [REDACTED]. The agency notes, however, that the protester’s claimed time of [REDACTED] does not include the full extent of inspection and cleaning currently required under agency maintenance procedures. MB concedes that its video omits some steps that the agency reports are currently required, but maintains that the omitted steps are not necessary with its improved design. However, the solicitation requires a mean time to repair of no more than one hour includ[ing] time to visually inspect and/or accomplish all required [non-destructive inspection] procedures per applicable maintenance manual. While the protester would have the agency forego some of the currently required inspections due to its claimed improved design, there is no basis for us to preclude the agency from taking these inspections into account; again, where, as here, a requirement relates to national defense or human safety, an agency has the discretion to define solicitation requirements to achieve not just reasonable results, but the highest possible reliability and/or effectiveness. Further, the agency reports that the video submitted by MB reflects the use of labor-saving special tooling that is not typically available at Air Force bases, including forward operating locations the C’130s will use. As noted by DLA, the use of such special tooling appears to be inconsistent with the specification requirement that the proposed configuration shall be compatible with the total aircraft performance, maintenance, and operational environment.
Even if GAO agreed that MB has shown that its proposed tie-bolt design will meet the one hour mean time to repair requirement, it is evident from the record that a tie-bolt wheel will require significantly more time to maintain than a lock-ring wheel. It is just as clear from the record that the agency has determined that it needs a wheel design permitting more efficient maintenance than is possible with a tie-bolt design. Under these circumstances, requiring the agency to revise the specification to reflect a shorter permissible mean time to repair based on the lock-ring wheel would be a useless act. The protest is denied.