Link: GAO Opinion
Agency: Department of the Army
Disposition: Protest sustained.
Protest against solicitation requirement that telecommunications equipment be certified by the Joint Interoperability Test Command at the time of submission of quotations is sustained where the record does not establish that the requirement for such certification at the time of quotation submission is necessary to meet the agency’s needs.
General Counsel P.C. Highlight:
Specifically, SMARTnet objects to the requirement that the equipment be Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certified and that vendor’s satisfy this requirement at the time of quotation submission. GAO states that with respect to the merits of SMARTnet’s challenge that requiring JITC certification at the time of quotation submission is unduly restrictive of competition, procuring agencies are required to specify their needs in a manner designed to permit full and open competition, and may include restrictive requirements only to the extent they are necessary to satisfy the agencies’ legitimate needs (or as otherwise authorized by law). Where a protester challenges a specification as unduly restrictive, the agency must establish that the requirement is reasonably necessary to meet its needs; GAO will examine the adequacy of the agency’s position to ensure that it is rational and can withstand logical scrutiny.
Here, SMARTnet contends that the agency does not need to have proof of certification before the time of installation, and that requiring JITC certification at the time of quotation submission essentially restricts the procurement to those firms that had this certification at the time the solicitation was issued. This is so, SMARTnet argues, because the JITC-certification process is only performed at two sites in the United States and is time-consuming. In this regard, SMARTnet states that its equipment is currently in the process of achieving final JITC certification which is being sponsored by the Department of the Army and is scheduled to be achieved later this spring in time for the apparent equipment installation.
GAO does not find that the Army’s concerns here, which all relate to the agency’s need to have JITC-certified equipment at the time of equipment installation, support the solicitation’s requirement for JITC certification at the time of quotation submission. An agency’s otherwise legitimate requirements regarding an offeror’s demonstrated ability to meet contract requirements may not be required prior to when such qualifications become relevant. The Army has simply not explained why the apparent purpose behind the certification requirement–to ensure that a system be certified prior to the time it must be fielded–requires that evidence of certification be provided as early in the process as the time at which quotations are submitted. In short, the Army has not shown its requirement that vendors’ proposed equipment be JITC certified at the time of submission of quotations is reasonable. The protest is sustained.