OASIS small-biz protestor fights on

Rudy Sutherland might be a modern day Don Quixote as he continues to fight for small-business changes to GSA's OASIS contract, but his losses could serve a greater purpose if they spark some debate about how small businesses are allowed to compete in today's market.

I am beginning to wonder if Rudy Sutherland feels like he is tilting at windmills in his fight to get the General Services Administration to loosen requirements that limited small-business teaming on the giant OASIS contract.

Sutherland leads a group called the Voice of Small Business in America and leads an advisory firm Aljucar, Anvil-Incus and Co.

He’s argued that since the release of the request for proposals for the $60 billion OASIS contract, the requirements for the large business portion don’t allow small businesses to team with other small businesses in joint ventures to compete for that part of the contract.

In developing the RFP, GSA said its market research found that joint ventures formed only for OASIS could pose performance risks. Because GSA wants agencies to use OASIS for complex professional services requirements, that kind of risk isn’t acceptable.

Because of this, the RFP only is allowing past performance from joint ventures that have already performed work as a joint venture. The past performance from the entities forming the venture won’t be considered.

Sutherland has objected to this, saying it restricts competition. He’s filed protests at the agency level at GSA, which were denied, and at GAO.

GAO ruled against his protest on Jan. 2, saying that agencies have discretion in how they develop their evaluation criteria.

Now, Sutherland is back at GAO, asking for reconsideration. He says that the decision contains an error of fact or law. GAO generally tries to respond in 100 days to these kinds of filings.

The request for a consideration won’t impact the process for making OASIS awards. The contract is in the source selection process now, and a decision is expected by the end of the month or early February.

Sutherland, who didn’t respond to a phone message, told a colleague of mine at FCW that he’ll likely appeal to the Court of Federal Claims.

While I don’t think Sutherland stands much of a chance of forcing changes, I can’t help but admire his commitment.

It seems that a lot of small businesses are caught in a trap as agencies try to push more work toward small business contracts. I’ve heard concerns that small businesses will win a contract and then be overwhelmed by the requirements.

This can lead to poor performance or to a large-business subcontractor taking over the work, rendering the contract a small-business contract in name only. Either result doesn’t help the government or the small business involved.

So, maybe Sutherland’s fight over OASIS might fail today, but it could have a more lasting impact if it sparks a productive discussion of the role of small businesses, and how they are allowed to compete in the market.