CIO-SP4's latest corrective action plan gets underway

All bidders for the $50 billion IT vehicle will see their proposals re-evaluated, including those with pending protests.

The National Institutes of Health's IT acquisition team plans to take yet another corrective action to resolve the remaining open bid protests involving the CIO-SP4 contract vehicle for IT solutions.

A lengthy statement to WT from NIH's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center includes a laundry list of all the ways the Government Accountability Office supports that approach.

Toward the end of that statement, NITAAC Deputy Director Ricky Clark said the organization would apply GAO’s recommendations for how to move ahead with the potential $50 billion vehicle.

“NITAAC plans to take the corrective action required to reevaluate all proposals, consistent with the decision,” he said in the statement.

The agency also is extending the current CIO-SP3 contract until April 29, 2024.

Clark’s statement includes 12 areas where NITAAC says GAO either dismissed protest allegations or found no merit in them.

GAO only dismissed two sets of arguments, one being untimely because the protestors should have raised complaints about the evaluation criteria when the solicitation was released and not after they were eliminated from the competition.

The second point involved a GAO ruling that companies who failed to pass the first phase could not argue that NITAAC failed to follow the award criteria. GAO found NITAAC was clear in the solicitation that the only proposals eligible for award were those that advanced past phase one.

NITAAC's statement does not address the problems that GAO found with the CIO-SP4 procurement, particularly with how the agency managed its self-scoring process that comprised phase one.

One protest decision involves 64 companies and is 56 pages long. The second decision involving 27 companies is 20 pages long.

Both decisions go into great detail about the mistakes GAO found in how NITAAC has run the procurement so far.

In a nutshell, GAO found that “neither the record provided by the agency nor the agency’s responses to the protests show that the evaluations and exclusion decisions were reasonable.”

GAO said NITAAC made misleading and incomplete explanations of its actions “as shown by the significant revisions to the agencies responses to some – but not all – of the protesters’ allegations."

GAO also criticized NITAAC because the agency “did not meaningfully respond to the protesters’ arguments” involving how their self-scores were evaluated.

Many of the protests around how NITAAC validated bidders’ self-scores boil down to these 10 arguments:

  1. The validation process was not documented
  2. NITAAC used an unstated criteria and methods
  3. NITAAC used unvalidated self-scoring points to establish the cutline.
  4. NITAAC didn’t consider all evaluation factors when making the phase one cuts
  5. The cutline created undisclosed mandatory requirements
  6. NITAAC unreasonably adjusted cutlines to meet new socio-economic goals
  7. Small businesses had a reasonable expectation of a lower cutline
  8. Small and large businesses were treated unequally
  9. The cutlines were an improper competitive range determination
  10. The cutlines were de facto non-responsibility determinations

GAO agreed with argument numbers one and three, which on their own were enough to sustain the protests.

In GAO's eyes, NITAAC hurt its argument when explaining how it validated the self-scores during the protest. When supplemental protests were filed, NITAAC explained that it used two different validation processes. NITAAC had an “initial” validation and a “hard” validation.

NITAAC's contracting officer offered one explanation to GAO for how the scores were used and evaluated, but the organization's statistician offered a different explanation.

The contracting officer then offered another explanation, admitting that errors were made and companies would be notified that they had passed phase one.

GAO found that to be problematic and could not "determine from the documentation provided, whether the agency in fact validated all of the vendors’ scores consistent with the solicitation requirements."

Inconsistencies and a lack of clarity in its explanations to GAO hurt NITAAC repeatedly during the protest.

GAO lays out several recommendations for NITAAC to follow:

  • “Hard” validate all self-scores
  • Make a new cutline analysis
  • Make a new determination of which proposals advanced through phase one.

A fourth recommendation was specific to one protester, who asked for its score to be re-evaluated because NITAAC deducted 60 out of a possible 150 points from one of the task order examples the company submitted. GAO ruled that NITAAC didn’t reasonably explain the deduction.

In its statement, NITAAC says that GAO “concurred [NITAAC’] s interpretation of the solicitation for the vast majority of arguments.”

That is technically true. But in reading the GAO decision, it's clear that NITAAC has fallen well short of a properly-run procurement.

NITAAC cites several challenges it has faced over the last two years with CIO-SP4 including staff turnover, a rule change at the Small Business Administration, growing pains and media attention.

NITAAC has high hopes for the $50 billion vehicle that it says will be a go-to resources for agencies looking for technologies such as blockchain, cybersecurity, agile software development, cloud-based IT solution, new labor categories and task areas.

“We are optimistic about the promise CIO-SP4 holds for our federal government customers and look forward to helping federal civilian and DO agencies get IT done,” Clark says at the end of his statement.