After attorneys at the Government Accountability Office rejected part of a vendor’s protest to stop the procurement of a new online travel agency, the company has taken its case to federal court. But the solicitation for bids on the contract, which is being managed by the General Services Administration, can carry on, according to documents filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The move marks the third protest by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a contractor on the existing booking system, against GSA, which is pursuing the project to continue offering travel services to agencies after the 2013 expiration of CWT’s current contract.
Court cases generally take longer to settle than GAO protests, but given the schedules of all involved, the protests may not delay the procurement, some contract attorneys said.
The federal claims court, which hears cases brought by companies dissatisfied with GAO decisions, did not issue an injunction to halt the procurement because GSA is under a tight deadline to award a contract and all parties agreed to expedite proceedings, according to a May 16 court order. Oral arguments start July 28.
The complaint, filed May 13, was sealed to protect CWT’s proprietary information as well as GAO’s sensitive information.
Last month, GAO sustained one of four arguments that CWT, one of three vendors supporting the existing e-travel program, filed in January. Attorneys sided with the company on a concern that the work order was vague about the nature of an assortment of luxury features, which the solicitation described as both obligatory and optional. The attorneys recommended GSA revise the request for proposals to explicitly state whether the features are mandatory.
At the time, GSA officials said they welcomed the chance to clarify the RFP and were confident they would continue with the solicitation in a timely fashion. This week, GSA and CWT officials declined to comment on the protest or the timeline for the project, since the litigation is ongoing.
The agency is expected to issue a second, amended solicitation, which might open the program to further protests, according to people familiar with the protest process. After GSA last summer released its first RFP for a follow-on to CWT’s 2003 contract, the company protested on numerous grounds. GSA, on its own, resolved the matter by modifying the solicitation and extending the due date for bids.
In April, GAO attorneys dismissed the company’s arguments that the contract’s fixed prices are excessively risky; stipulations for system updates — should the government change technology policies — are too restrictive; and the procurement puts CWT at a competitive disadvantage by using commercial item provisions.
The attorneys maintained GSA’s solicitation was reasonable in those areas: the fixed-prices would cover a set number of requirements and the work order provides enough information for vendors to estimate prices. In addition, updates are a necessary part of any such project and CWT failed to demonstrate that commercial item policies were intentionally included to eliminate CWT from vying for the contract, they said.
Federal auditors have criticized the current online travel system over the past seven years for not offering customer-friendly booking and failing to track all costs incurred during deployment. The upgrade, as outlined in the original RFP, would deliver mobile services, on-demand installation through cloud computing, and more intuitive features.
— by Aliya Sternstein – NextGov – 05/24/2011 at http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20110524_2331.php?oref=rss?zone=NGtoday