Polaris RFP sparks small business fears


The solicitation for the $15 billion has sparked fears that small businesses are at a disadvantage and joint ventures are favored in the competition. One protest so far but are others in the works?

The General Services Administration issued the final solicitations for the Polaris multiple-award contract for women-owned small business (WOSB) and small business (SB) pools on March 25. This much anticipated IT vehicle is the replacement for the Alliant 2 Small Business solicitation ($15 billion ceiling) which never made it to the final RFP.

The Polaris government-wide acquisition contract will eventually include four different pools: SB, WOSB, historically underutilized business (HUB) zones as well as service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB), replacing VETS 2. While 8(a) firms do not have a separate pool, they can apply for any of the Polaris pools for which they qualify as they await the STARS III RFP.

Pre-Award Protests

Almost as soon as the RFP was released, the first Polaris pre-award protest quickly followed.

BD Squared filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on March 29 regarding provisions in the RFP that allow a mentor-protégé joint venture (JV) to rely solely on the experience of the large business mentor. Since mentor-protégé joint venture (JV) arrangements take several months to put together and bids are due May 13, small businesses that bid only their own experience could be at a disadvantage compared to these JVs. This reliance solely on large business experience may also violate Small Business Administration (SBA) rules, or at least the intent of those rules.

If NITAAC’s Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4) RFP is any indicator, the BD Squared protest may inspire others to follow suit. The CIO-SP4 RFP resulted in 21 pre-award protests. Three were withdrawn, and GAO dismissed ten. Eight of these protests remain undecided.

Interestingly, the remaining CIO-SP4 protests also focus on mentor-protégé JVs, but from a different perspective. Protesters complain that the RFP allows only two large business experiences, restricting competition unduly and violating SBA regulations.

Say What?

NITAAC allowed too few large-business mentor experiences as part of the evaluation process, and GSA allowed too many?

No matter which way an agency goes with allowing the experience of large business mentor-protégé JVs to count toward evaluation points, some bidders will be at a disadvantage. GSA may find itself facing the same problem as NITAAC. As Abraham Lincoln said: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time”.

Perhaps SBA needs to weigh in on the rules regarding mentor-protégé JVs, or Polaris may face amendment after amendment and delayed awards.

NEXT STORY: Protests keep nagging at CIO-SP4