It didn’t take long for the National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center to decide it was time to get out from under the crush of protests of its CIO-SP4 program.
NITAAC told the Government Accountability Office that it would take corrective action less than two weeks after an onslaught of complaints threatened the $50 billion health and IT services governmentwide acquisition contract. GAO received a total of 119 protests and dismissed 117 of them after NITAAC’s decision to reopen evaluations.
NITAAC told GAO that it would reassess the self-scoring cut-off line and make a new determination on the highest rated offerors that proceed to phase 2.
Additionally, NITAAC says it would see if it needed to correct any additional errors or deficiencies in the review process.
Finally, NITAAC says it will issue notifications based on the new determination on the highest rated offerors.
There are still two protests that GAO hasn’t dismissed, but will decide in the coming weeks whether they should be bundled into the previous ones and dismissed or if they should continue on.
Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners and a federal procurement expert, said despite NITAAC’s decision to take corrective action, the acquisition remains in peril.
“Any new ‘cut line’ that results in winners and losers is almost certainly going to result in an additional round of protests. The small business community here has indicated that they will fight hard to get on this contract, despite NITAAC making it clear from the very start that CIOSP 4 was never meant to be an ‘entry level’ vehicle,” Allen said. “Additional protests will create further delays and costs. On the other hand, a ‘come one, come all’ approach will result in a flood of companies that will be difficult for NITAAC to manage and require buying agencies to vet contractors at the task order level. Neither of these is a good outcome.”
Award timeline to be delayed again?
NITAAC kicked off the CIO-SP4 solicitation in March 2021 and final bids came in to the agency in February 2022.
Since February, NITAAC has faced an assortment of challenges, including 15 protests between March and November. Even before the bid due date, NITAAC faced almost two dozen protests, many of which were centered on the terms and conditions around mentor-protégé and joint venture agreements.
The decision to take corrective action likely will push the timeline further to the right, closing in on two years since NITAAC issued the solicitation and a year since companies submitted initial bids.
Allen said the continued delays calls into question the accuracy of the pricing and even whether companies are offering the latest technologies.
“Those offers included pricing and solutions that were accurate at that time. Pricing and market solutions have evolved since then. Will NITAAC allow companies to update those parts of their offers to ensure that everything is still accurate and current, or will awards be made on what was offered, with a sea of changes coming immediately thereafter?” Allen said. “NITAAC should want to make awards based on the most current information possible, but that causes delays. On the other hand, delays would also likely result, to some extent, if they proceeded to award now and then had to immediately modify contracts before anything, but the most basic business could be done.”
NITAAC was unable to respond to a request for comment.