New round of CIO-SP4 protests gets underway Lim / 500px

Companies are sounding the same complaints over their elimination from the multiple-award $50 billion IT competition: the scoring threshold to advance into the next round is arbitrary.

The protests involving the National Institutes of Health’s CIO-SP4 contract vehicle seem to go on, and on, and on.

A fresh batch has hit within the past week because it appears NIH's IT acquisition organization is not changing its approach on how to weed out bidders for the small business portion of the potential $50 billion IT solutions and services vehicle.

CIO-SP4 has seen 179 protests to date. Those have been followed by corrective actions by NITAAC, which only precede protests. Rinse and repeat.

Many companies have filed multiple protests because they are dissatisfied by NITAAC’s attempts to address their questions.

As with many large multiple-award vehicles, NITAAC is using a self-scoring mechanism for phase one of the  competition. Protesters have argued that NITAAC arbitrarily set the threshold, which has never been disclosed, to qualify for phase two.

For its corrective action, NITAAC told the Government Accountability Office that it would take a second look at that threshold and make a new determination on which offerors will move on in the competition.

NITAAC took the corrective action in November, but GAO had to work through each protest individually. Protests continued to hit GAO even after NITAAC disclosed the corrective action plans. GAO needed until January to work through and dismiss those protests.

But Thursday is when the current round of protests started. A total of 17 companies filed new protests because on Jan. 31, the agency began to again inform that they had not met the threshold.

One source has told me that it appears NITAAC is sending the same notice it did in October, when the deluge of protests began. At one point this fall, there were at least 120 active protests.

In the notices that have gone to unsuccessful bidders, NITAAC has not changed the threshold to allow more companies to move on to phase two. NITAAC has also still not said why that is the right threshold, I'm told.

The highest number of points a proposal can get is 10,000, but the threshold may be slightly different depending on which part of CIO-SP4 a company is bidding on.

For some parts of the competition, the threshold to qualify for phase two is as high as 9,800.

NITAAC is running separate competitions for different types of small businesses, so the threshold for women-owned might not be the same as for an 8(a) small business.

Given NITAAC has not yet indicated what the threshold is, the lack of transparency has led many in industry to allege that number is arbitrary.

By comparison, the General Services Administration announced the threshold companies have to meet in the self-scoring portion of the recompete for its OASIS professional services vehicle.

It is perplexing how NITAAC could easily let more companies move on to phase two, which is more of a paperwork phase that has firms show their certifications and accreditations.

Companies then move on to phase three to be evaluated on past performance, technical merit and management approach.

It should be much easier for NITAAC justify eliminating companies in phase three than in phase one, where the organization could have explained what its threshold is.

I have reached out to NITAAC but have not received a response.