When drafting small business joint venture agreements, the devil is in the details. A template JV agreement—like the one from the Small Business Administration—may not guarantee a JV’s eligibility for a contract award. The details of the agreement, like which contracts the JV will pursue and what each side will contribute, are critical.

Even if approved, a generic JV agreement may not survive a protest.

In CVE Protest of Veterans Contracting, Inc., the SBA’s Office of Hearings and Appeals sustained a protest challenging a JV’s status as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business because its JV agreement was too generic to establish the JV’s eligibility as an SDVOSB. The JV in that case (CRNTC) was a joint venture between CR Nationwide, LLC (the SDVOSB partner) and Trumble Construction, Inc.

The Department of Veterans Affairs approved CRNTC’s SDVOSB status for a period of three years in June 2018. The approval was based on the JV agreement between CR Nationwide and Trumble, which made CR Nationwide the majority owner. But the JV agreement did not identify any particular solicitation that CRNTC would pursue or otherwise outline what each partner would contribute to the JV. The agreement specified that the parties would identify the contract and scope of work at a later date and would set those out in a jointly executed statement that would be submitted to the relevant contracting authority.

Six months later, CRNTC submitted a bid in response to an SDVOSB set-aside IFB for a construction project at the VA medical center in Cleveland, Ohio. The VA selected CRNTC as the apparent awardee in March 2019, and an unsuccessful bidder, Veterans Contracting, Inc., protested the award and challenged CRNTC’s status as an SDVOSB.

In its response to the protest CRNTC attached a copy of its JV agreement and highlighted the fact that its majority owner, CR Nationwide, was an SDVOSB. That was not enough for the Office of Hearings and Appeals. OHA reopened the record and required CRNTC to provide additional evidence to establish its eligibility as an SDVOSB. It highlighted the fact that CRNTC’s JV agreement did not specify the contributions of CR Nationwide and Trumble, and there was no evidence of a jointly executed statement outlining their contributions, like the JV agreement had contemplated.

Details after award do not necessarily prove the JV’s eligibility prior to award.

CRNTC subsequently provided OHA with a copy of the VA’s letter approving CR Nationwide as an SDVOSB. It also provided a document showing an apparent breakdown of work for the solicitation at issue, but the document was unsigned and undated. The VA’s contracting officer separately informed OHA that she did not receive a jointly-executed statement outlining what scopes of work CR Nationwide and Trumble would provide for the IFB’s scope of work.

OHA concluded that this evidence was not sufficient to prove that CRNTC was an SDVOSB either on the date that it submitted its bid, or the date when it was awarded the contract (eligibility on both dates is required). Because the JV agreement was prepared months earlier and did not even mention the IFB at issue, OHA concluded that it did not satisfy the SBA requirements of itemizing the resources each JV partner would contribute and specifying each partner’s responsibilities for contract negotiation, source of labor, and contract performance. The lack of a contemporaneous jointly executed statement addressing each party’s contribution also meant that CRNTC could not show that CR Nationwide (the SDVOSB partner) was actually performing 40% of the work, as required under SBA’s regulations.

OHA also refused to consider the “breakdown” document that CRNTC submitted during the protest. It noted that CRNTC’s eligibility had to be determined at the time it submitted its bid (December 2018) and when it received award (March 2019). The unsigned and undated “breakdown” document had no bearing on CRNTC’s eligibility on those dates because the document appeared to have been created only after OHA reopened the record and asked CRNTC to provide additional evidence of its eligibility.

Determine each party’s specific contribution before submitting a proposal.

In our experience, the factual situation from this case is fairly common. Eager to establish a new relationship, partners often rush to sign a template JV agreement before they have identified how or what they will do together. As a result, the JV agreement often does little more than identify the partners and ensure that the small business partner will be the majority owner. Although that may be sufficient for preliminary size or status approval, any resulting contract award could still be at risk. In order to prove the JV’s eligibility, attention to detail is required. The parties should be sure to clearly outline their respective contributions and responsibilities for a particular procurement before they submit their bid and receive award of the contract.


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GAO’s recent decision in HP Enterprise Services, LLC illustrates the challenges resulting from the recent changes to GAO’s task order protest jurisdiction. It also provides a useful overview of the current scope of GAO’s jurisdiction over such protests.  HP Enterprise Services, LLC—Reconsideration, B-413382.3 (January 26, 2017).

Here is a bit of background on the recent jurisdictional changes that led to the decision. GAO lost its jurisdiction over protests of civilian task and delivery orders valued at over $10 million on September 30, 2016. This was the “sunset date” established in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. GAO’s jurisdiction over such protests for military agencies or departments, or for protests alleging increased scope, period, or maximum value of the underlying contract, remained undisturbed in 2016.

For approximately three months, contractors had no forum (and therefore, no remedy) for protests of civilian task orders valued over $10 million. That changed on December 14, 2016, when the Government Accountability Office Civilian Task and Delivery Order Protest Authority Act of 2016 became law. See Public Law No. 114-779 (Dec. 14, 2016). This law restored GAO’s civilian task order protest jurisdiction to its pre-October 1, 2016 scope.

Less than two weeks later, the scope of GAO’s jurisdiction over task order protests changed yet again. On December 23, 2016, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act became law. See Public Law No. 114-328 (Dec. 23, 2016). Although major changes aimed at limiting federal bid protests had been under discussion, most of the limiting provisions were not adopted. The 2017 NDAA did not change the $10 million threshold for protests of civilian agency task order awards. But it increased GAO’s jurisdictional threshold for military agency task order protests from $10 million to $25 million. Protests asserting that a task order award was improper because it exceeded the scope, the performance period, or the maximum value of the underlying contract can be filed without regard to the threshold.

HP gets caught in a jurisdictional trap

Like many government contractors, HP Enterprise Services was ensnared in these changes. On July 11, 2016, HP protested the award of a task order to CACI, Inc. The task order was issued by GSA, but it required the delivery of IT support services to DoD. GSA took corrective action soon thereafter, and the protest was dismissed as academic.
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GAO has published its decision denying multiple protests of the Defense Health Agency’s decision to award the T-2017 managed care support contracts to Humana Government Business, Inc. and Health Net Federal Services, LLC. Humana won the TRICARE contract for the east region with a total evaluated price of $40.7 billion. Health Net won the west region contract with a total evaluated price of $17.7 billion.

The Atlanta Opera's 2011/2012 performance of The Golden Ticket
Photo: The Atlanta Opera

One of the key issues addressed in GAO’s decision was the challenge to Humana’s past performance rating. Anthem subsidiary WellPoint Military Care Corporation argued that DHA placed so much weight on prior experience as a TRICARE prime contractor that incumbency amounted to an unstated evaluation criterion. In WellPoint’s view, incumbency was the “golden ticket to attaining the highest Substantial Confidence rating.”

GAO found no merit to WellPoint’s argument. There was nothing in the record to suggest that DHA treated incumbency as an unstated evaluation criterion. Indeed, DHA considered WellPoint’s own past performance superior to that of two other incumbent TRICARE contractors—Health Net and UnitedHealth Military & Veterans Services, LLC.

GAO also rejected the legal basis for WellPoint’s argument. While incumbency is not necessarily a golden ticket, GAO also found that it was reasonable to give credit to Humana for its prior experience managing a large TRICARE regional contract. In GAO’s view, “it is not unreasonable for an agency to place particular emphasis on a firm’s performance as an incumbent contractor, since such performance may be reasonably viewed as a more accurate indication of likely future performance . . . .”

Incumbency is not necessarily a golden ticket, but it certainly can’t hurt.


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The Supreme Court’s June 2016 decision in Kingdomware Techs., Inc. v. United States, No. 14-916 (June 16, 2016), may significantly impact the meaning of the term “government contract” for years to come.

The case centered on a project for the Department of Veteran Affairs. When VA continually fell behind in achieving its three percent goal for contracting with service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, Congress enacted the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006. See 38 U.S.C. §§ 8127 & 8128. The Act includes a mandatory set-aside provision that requires competition to be restricted to veteran-owned small businesses if the government contracting officer reasonably expects that at least two such businesses will submit offers and that the “award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.” This is an iteration of the well-known “Rule of Two.”

When it published regulations implementing this statutory requirement, VA took the position that the set-aside requirements in § 8127 “do not apply to [Federal Supply Schedule] task or delivery orders.”  74 Fed. Reg. 64619, 64624 (2009). The Kingdomware case posed a direct challenge to this interpretation.


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Image by William Warby

GAO has announced a series of proposed amendments to its bid protest regulations. The changes are prompted by the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2014, one section of which required GAO to establish an electronic filing system. But the amendments are not limited to implementing electronic filing, and many of the other proposed adjustments warrant attention.

Electronic filing and new filing fee

Many of the proposed amendments address GAO’s proposed “Electronic Protest Docketing System,” or EPDS. Once adopted, EPDS will be the sole means for filing a bid protest at GAO, replacing the “protests@gao.gov” email method. Protests containing classified information will not use EPDS.

Some protest-related communications will also be required to be submitted through EPDS under the proposed amendment to Section 21.3(a). GAO has stated that it will post instructions on its website as to which communications should be submitted through EPDS and which will continue to be exchanged through email. While this guidance is not yet available, the text of the proposed rule does not suggest a substantive change in existing practice, under which certain communications are distributed to all parties (and GAO, but parties may also have separate contact about some protest-related issues.

A filing fee in the amount of $350—the first of its kind at GAO—will be imposed to cover the costs of supporting EPDS. The fee is to be paid by the protester upon initiating the protest. GAO has not addressed how the filing fee will be paid, a potentially important consideration in light of GAO’s short and strictly enforced filing deadlines.

Other important amendments

GAO’s proposed amendments include substantive changes unrelated to EPDS. Many, but not all, of these changes are intended to formally adopt rules announced in GAO’s decisions. Here are some of the signifcant changes.
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GAO Headquarters in Washington, DC

The Government Accountability Office has been publishing its annual bid protest statistics report to Congress since fiscal year 1995. That year GAO received 2,334 new protests and closed 2,528. For FY 2015, GAO reports that it received 2,496 new protests and closed 2,647.

Given the changes in contract law and the significant increase in expenditures on federal contracts over the last 20 years, these figures are remarkably consistent.

For Fiscal Year 2015, GAO reports that protesters obtained some form of relief in 45 percent of cases closed, either as the result of an agency’s voluntary corrective action or a decision sustaining some or all of the protest grounds. This “effectiveness rate” is marginally higher than it has been in the previous several years, when it hovered between 42 percent and 43 percent.

Winning bases for bid protests

One interesting piece of data added to GAO’s annual report in the last couple of years is the summary of the “most prevalent grounds for sustaining protests.” This new data element is the result of a requirement in a 2013 amendment to the Competition in Contracting Act. See 31 U.S.C. § 3554(e)(2).

In FY 2015, GAO identified five grounds of protest as the most prevalent. Even though it is drawn from only a small subset of protests that are actually resolved on the merits, GAO’s list of reasons for sustaining protests provides a roadmap for future protesters. Here is GAO’s list, along with a brief summary of the decision that GAO cites to illustrate it.
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HCR Seminar Postal Contracting Brochure 2016_3Unpaid for work you performed on your HCR contract?  Can’t agree with the Postal Service on a contract price adjustment?  Not given a chance to bid on new work in your area?

Learn about remedies for these problems at our new seminar, “Claims and Disagreements under Postal Service HCR contracts.”  Husch Blackwell partner David Hendel

HB Asbestos_Map_v4Contracts with Virginia agencies, counties, municipal governments, and school boards are governed by the Virginia Public Procurement Act. The Act requires the use of competitive procedures in the solicitation and award of public contracts. It also establishes a procedure for the submission and resolution of bid protests. See Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-4360(A).

How and when to protest a contract award decision

An actual or prospective bidder seeking to challenge the award of a Virginia government contract must submit a protest to the procuring agency or to an official designated by the agency. The protest must be submitted in writing. It must include the basis for the protest and the relief sought. A bid protest must be submitted no later than ten days after the award or the announcement of the decision to award, whichever occurs first. This deadline is extended if the protest depends on obtaining access to documents. In those situations, the protest must be submitted within ten days after the records are made available. The VPPA does not specifically allow for the submission of a pre-award protest that challenges the terms and conditions of a solicitation.

If a protest is timely filed, the award and performance of the contract is automatically stayed unless the agency determines in writing that “proceeding without delay is necessary to protect the public interest or unless that bid or offer would expire.”  Va. Code Ann. § 2.2-4362.
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HB Asbestos_Map_v4The Colorado Procurement Code grants the right to submit a protest to “[a]ny actual or prospective bidder, offeror, or contractor who is aggrieved in connection with the solicitation or award of a contract.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-109-102(1).

A protest must be submitted in writing within seven working days after the protester knew or should have known of the grounds for the protest, usually directly after the contract award decision by the agency issuing the solicitation or bid request. The protest must be submitted to the head of the agency or his designee, who is usually the purchasing agent for the agency.

The purchasing agent for the agency may settle and resolve protests concerning the solicitation and contract award. Absent a settlement, a written decision is required within seven working days after the protest is filed. This decision is to be based on and limited to the issues raised in the protest. It must explain each of the factors taken into account in reaching the determination and must advise the protester of its appeal rights. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-109-107. The protest decision must be mailed or otherwise furnished immediately to the protester and is final and conclusive unless the protester files a timely appeal or initiates a court proceeding to challenge the decision.
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