GSA's new approach to Polaris could help some joint ventures Rapeepong Puttakumwong

The General Services Administration has received affirmation on how it wants to score mentor-protege joint ventures that are pursuing this government-wide IT vehicle.

We have previously reported on the Government Accountability Office's denial of all protests against the Polaris small business vehicle, which clears the way for awards to be made.

Now GAO has released a public version of its ruling, which offers some insights into the IT solutions contract and how the General Services Administration is approaching small business joint ventures. This might have implications for other large contract vehicles.

GSA released the Polaris solicitation in early 2021 to replace the Alliant 2 Small Business contract after the latter ran into multiple issues with protests.

Polaris hasn’t been immune from complaints either. Several companies have gone to U.S. Court of Federal Claims with arguments against GSA’s self-scoring methodology and how points were awarded for relevant experience, particularly for joint ventures.

The court told GSA to amend the solicitation and let bidders resubmit proposals, but didn’t specify the changes to make.

Akima and Absolute Strategic Technologies didn’t like the direction GSA went down. They filed protests at GAO, complaining there were restrictions on what they could update in their proposals.

GAO rejected those protests and the public decision offers more insights into how GSA looks at mentor-protégé firms and what GAO says is OK.

GSA amended the solicitation following the court case. But the changes only applied to mentor-protégé joint ventures, who could change their relevant experience submission by adding work performed by the protégé.

An independent small business could not do that, Akima claimed.

GSA also decided to score the relevant experience on a pass/fail basis instead of having points assigned to it.

Other vehicles could have that approach as well. It kicked off a discussion on LinkedIn led by attorney Steven Bacon, who says that GSA’s interpretation is an advantage for mentor-protégé joint ventures.

GSA could have opted to score mentor-protégé joint ventures on a different scale but decided to go with the pass/fail approach. Bacon said that gives JVs an edge over traditional small businesses, especially if this becomes the norm.

Absolute’s protest focused on how GSA allowed mentor-protégé joint ventures to revise their proposals. Absolute is a mentor-protégé joint venture, but filed its protest because it wanted to submit relevant experience examples that occurred after the original proposal deadline of Oct. 7, 2022.

Absolute said not being allowed to do this was unfair and put it at a disadvantage against other joint ventures.

The GAO decision rejects that argument, saying GSA is acting reasonably and within its discretion.

GAO's decision also is interesting because the court didn’t specify the actions GSA needed to take, just that GSA needed to make amendments and accept revisions.

GSA didn’t ask for revisions from traditional small businesses because the court didn’t find an issue with the way GSA was dealing with traditional small businesses, only the joint ventures.

Therefore, the GSA revisions only applied to joint ventures. GAO agreed with that interpretation, and again said GSA's approach was reasonable and within its discretion.

We’ll have to watch future procurements and see whether the pass/fail approach for joint ventures becomes commonplace.

Meanwhile, we are waiting for GSA to make its Polaris awards that will likely go to 100 or more small businesses and joint ventures. Of course, more protests could follow.