A new bid protest ruling describes some trouble spots companies could run into when hiring former government officials.
ASRC Federal has lost its argument to swing a $224.1 million NASA contract in its direction after alleging the winning contractor had an organizational conflict of interest.
The Government Accountability Office was not convinced by ASRC Federal's claim that a RSi-QuantiTech joint venture's proposal was conflicted because of a former NASA employee that now works at one of its teammates.
Both companies were competing to provide engineering and support services at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The contract goes by the name Marshall Engineering Technicians and Trades Support III.
GAO also denied ASRC Federal’s other arguments that the best value tradeoff analysis was flawed and RSi-QuantiTech could not bid because it was a joint venture of two small businesses.
But the bulk of the decision revolves around a person known as Y, who provided program management oversight and review of all programs at the Marshall center including the METTS procurement.
ASRC Federal argued that Y had extensive non-public information about the procurement and oversaw the work by the incumbent contractor.
GAO's decision describes the process for vetting Y and determining if Y had access to non-public information that could be used for a competitive advantage.
Some of the work to determine that took place when Y left the government and needed clearance for work with the private sector. Y had a post-employment ethics opinion that determined there was no conflict.
Once ASRC Federal made its allegations about a conflict, the source evaluation board opened an investigation that involved reviewing emails and checking attendee sheets.
That was because ASRC Federal argued that Y participated in evaluating the past performance of the incumbent contractor on METTS II. Attendance records showed the Y attended one performance review board on METTS II and that was in 2016.
Y left NASA in 2019 before substantial work was done on the development of the solicitation.
Given these facts, GAO had little choice but to reject ASRC Federal’s protest.
The decision also offers some insights on what to think about when hiring former government officials, particularly if you are pursuing a specific contract.
You can use this decision as a guide to the kind of questions you should ask:
- When did you work on the contract?
- What was your role?
- Did you evaluate the incumbent?
- What did you have access to? Acquisition planning documents? Pricing? Past performance?
All the answers need to be specific as possible. This isn’t about being suspicious of a hire but it is about anticipating possible challenges in the future.
You don’t want surprises and you need to mitigate any exposure. Considering challenges down the road is a critical step.