GAO nixes Peace Corps' email plans

Auditors ruling on a bid protest could bring clarity to how follow-on contracts should be handled.

Shutterstock image (by Pavel Ignatov): digital email icon.

The Government Accountability Office has upheld a Google Government reseller's protest and ruled that the Peace Corps can't add email services to an existing delivery order for Microsoft licenses without opening the follow-on contract to competitive bids.

On Nov. 9, GAO agreed with Google cloud services reseller Onix Networking's protest, filed in July, that a Peace Corps email-as-a-service modification to an existing contract with Microsoft services reseller En Pointe Gov was not competitive and amounted to an improper sole-source award.

"The whole area of follow-ons [is] ill-defined" by federal regulations, longtime federal consultant Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, told FCW. With the Onix protest, he added, "GAO said, 'Wait a minute'" about using follow-ons to make significant changes.

Before making the award to En Pointe Gov, the Peace Corps had issued a request for information about EaaS products, leading Onix to respond, according to GAO.

Ultimately, the Peace Corps chose to modify the existing delivery order with En Pointe Gov, reasoning that the delivery order "contemplated the acquisition of cloud-based services," and EaaS was "merely the next logical step in updating the agency's existing computing environment," GAO auditors wrote.

The protest extends what has been a long and problematic effort to modernize the Peace Corps' email systems. In 2014, the agency piloted a project to migrate email, collaboration and document management systems to the cloud through GSA's shared services model. However, the Peace Corps' Office of Inspector General issued a report in March of this year questioning whether the agency followed federal acquisition rules when it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GSA to use its Google-powered e-mail service, and pilot project was not continued.

That next logical step is what GAO is now beginning to define, Allen said. Agencies have traditionally been left to their own devices when it comes to follow-on contracts, so GAO's ruling marks a sea change, he added.

"It's a wake-up call for agencies" that they have to think through the process and what is intrinsically related to their original contracts, he said. "It's probably not the last word," but it begins the process of defining what agencies can do with follow-ons under the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

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