GAO upholds one of four protests under E-Travel RFP

Monday - 4/25/2011, 8:07pm EDT

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration has lost a protest to CarlsonWagonlit Sato Travel on the follow-on contract for agencies up upgrade their governmentwide E-Travel systems.

But for once, the protest decision may not delay the award.

The Government Accountability Office ruled Friday that only one of four areas of disagreement had merit, and dismissed the other three.

GAO said CarlsonWagonlit's claim that some of the requirements under the request for proposals were "overly broad and ambiguous" warranted a positive ruling.

"The aspect of the solicitation that, in our view, presents an ambiguity relates to whether or not the SOW objectives are optional," GAO wrote in its decision.

"[T]he solicitation defined objectives as 'functionalities, capabilities, and characteristics' that improve the overall quality of ETS2, and it stated that '[o]bjectives offered by the contractor and accepted by the government become mandatory requirements under any resulting contract.' The solicitation also instructed offerors that 'the government may consider exceptions taken to [SOW] objectives' and included an attachment in which any exceptions taken were to be listed. CWT argues that these solicitation provisions reasonably may be interpreted to mean either that objectives are optional or that objectives are mandatory. We agree."

GAO added that it appears that the agency could reject a bidder's proposal that doesn't include all the functionalities or capabilities even those that are considered optional.

"We have reviewed the agency's explanation of its options and conclude that much of the explanation sheds little, if any, light on the question," GAO wrote. "One portion of the explanation states that the agency may open discussions regarding any exception taken to an objective and negotiate regarding the objective(s) and associated pricing. However, if no agreement is reached during such discussions, the agency states, 'the government would not award the contract.' In our view, this response confirms the protester's argument that the solicitation may reasonably be interpreted to communicate that compliance with these objectives may not an option, but a prerequisite for award--i.e., a requirement of the solicitation."

GAO recommends GSA revises the solicitation and communicates which functions and capabilities are optional and which are required. Or, GSA must give the bidders an opportunity to resubmit bids should they decide certain functions are mandatory after they have received all the bids.

GSA has 60 days to tell GAO what actions, if any, it will take.

GSA can continue to review bids, and GAO did not place a hold on the contracting process.

Requests for comments from GSA and CarlsonWagonlit on GAO's decision were not immediately returned.

GSA issued the follow-on RFP in August to update the governmentwide travel systems agencies have standardized on over the last eight years.

GSA awarded CarlsonWagonlit, EDS (now HP) and Northrop Grumman contracts to provide e-travel services for all civilian agencies in 2003. Since then 23 of 24 major agencies have implemented, or are implementing, one of the three systems.

The new deal would be a firm fixed price contract for 15 years: one three year contract with three four-year options. GSA would not reveal its estimate on what the new contract is worth. The previous deal was for 10 years and worth $450 million and it expires in 2013.

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