An offeror protested an award by the U.S. Forest Service when the agency’s solicitation appeared to favor a competitor, but the protest was denied at GAO. The Simplex Aerospace decision, in comparison to the recent case of PSI, raises the question of whether disappointed contractors are better served by filing protests with GAO or the Court of Federal Claims. Does the decision of where to file really mean the difference between a win and a loss in the world of Government contracts?
The Implications of Simplex’s Aerospace Case at GAO
When Simplex Aerospace challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s solicitation to convert a C130 plane to drop retardant on forest fires, they took their protest to GAO. It appeared to the contractor that the agency had written their solicitation for services around the product of a competitor. The case highlights the tension between prescribing narrow versus broad specifications, and balancing an agency’s needs against legal requirements for a competitive procurement process.
The U.S. Forest Service’s narrow specifications prompted Simplex Aerospace to protest. Among other constraints, the protestor cited the agency’s requirement for crash survivability, which was in excess of the FAA standard. Additionally, they asserted that the agency’s required excessive accuracy in measuring the levels of fire retardant in the aircraft’s tanks.. These requirements appeared to mimic a competitor’s product, and thus the protestor felt the solicitation was unfair.
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