Bidders confused by provisions in DHS request for IT services

Large companies confused about how to best respond to a pending Homeland Security Department procurement may handle the uncertainty by submitting a higher-than-expected number of contract bids and later protesting the results, some government acquisition observers say.

Bids for the department's Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge procurement are due Monday. EAGLE is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity acquisition of information technology services falling under five categories. It could last up to seven years and has a maximum value of $45 billion.

Language included in the request for proposals has left some bidders perplexed about how to respond, said Phil Kiviat, a partner at IT consultancy Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates. DHS will heavily weigh contractors' past performance when evaluating bids, but will only consider directly attributable experience.

As a result, "People are coming to different conclusions about whether a large company would have to submit multiple proposals or whether it could submit one proposal," Kiviat said. "The question is can they use past performance and credentials from everywhere in the corporation."

Companies unsure of the answer could decide to err on the side of submitting more bids, ramping up the number of responses from an anticipated 500 to 600 to as many as 1,000, Kiviat said. An amendment to the request for proposals, released seven working days before the due date for bids, has not cleared up the ambiguity, he added.

Corporate confusion also might increase the number of protests once contracts are awarded, said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. in McLean, Va.

The department's intent is to make sure that "large corporate entities couldn't do a bait and switch," bidding with the past performance of one business unit but delivering work with another less qualified entity, Bjorklund said. But the late-breaking proposal amendment isn't a good sign, he said. "It's unfortunate that so late in the cycle they're still trying to refine that."

DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie said anybody uncertain about the department's intent should call the contracting officer. "There's a way to get clarification," he said.

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