The General Services Administration got out from under one protest of a major acquisition initiative, only to be sucked right back into another protest.

Thus is the always entertaining world of federal procurement — on step forward, one step back.

Welcome to another installment of “As GSA’s Acquisition World Turns.”

This episode starts with the departure of a leading man, Sonny Hashmi, the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service on Dec. 29, and addition of a new (yet to be known major or minor) character, Eric Mill, as executive director for cloud strategy in GSA’s Technology Transformation Service, and the ongoing story arc of the status of several new governmentwide contracts.

New players appear, in this case ePS- National Diversity Veteran Small Business with its protest of the follow-on contract for the Commercial Platforms Initiative.

Foes are vanquished, in this case Boston Consulting Group, losing its OASIS+ bid protest at the Government Accountability Office.

And a new branch of the story line emerges with the release of the draft performance statement of work for the ASCEND cloud service blanket purchase agreement after “being in a coma” for almost 18 months.

The new player

GSA had hoped to award the next generation Commercial Platform Initiative (CPI) contract before Dec. 23 when the current contracts with Amazon, Fischer Scientific and Overstock expired.

In an expected plot twist, GSA is facing a new protest of the new contract.  ePS-National Diversity Veteran Small Business filed a complaint on Dec. 21 over their disqualification from next generation competition.

On top of that, awarding contracts tends to take longer than expected and GSA, had to extend the current three contracts through March.

GSA is expected to make anywhere between 6 and 8 awards. Along with ePS-NDVSB, other bidders may have included Amazon and Granger.

As for the new protest, ePS-NDVSB filed the protest on Dec. 21 and the Government Accountability Office has until April 1 to decide.

David Saroli, the CEO of ePS-NDVSB, said GSA’s decision to disqualify his company is perplexing. He said GSA disqualified his company around three deficiencies, even after submitting a bid, going through a live demonstration and going back and forth with email questions and answers during the fall.

The three deficiencies were: GSA said ePS-NDVSB didn’t provide the ability to have a minimum order quantity; didn’t demonstrate a data dashboard; and didn’t have a marketplace unique for government use.

Saroli said that ePS-NDVSB already provides its e-procurement platform to the Army, Air Force and two Navy commands and they meet and exceed the solicitation requirements.

“It’s clear that they misevaluated our bid. They had our capabilities in writing and visually, and they still missed it,” he said. “When you say deficiency, it means we didn’t have the capability. But we did and that means they made a big mistake on their review.”

Saroli said being left off the next generation CPI effort would not only be disheartening but it would impact small businesses.

“We are a small business,” he said. “On the platform now, we have mostly small businesses and where Amazon charges businesses 12%-15% per transaction, we charge 5% per transaction, which is important for the government and the small businesses on our platform.”

This is the second protest GSA has to contend with around the CPI solicitation. GSA took corrective action after the National Industries for the Blind, the Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment and the National Association for the Employment of People who are Blind filed a pre-solicitation protest in February over the mandatory sourcing requirements for products provided under the AbilityOne program.

Written out of the script, for now

Just when the plot twist around the CPI acquisition threw you for a surprise, the soap opera storyline takes a turn toward the OASIS+ acquisition.

In this part of the narrative, GSA comes out like the good looking leading character winning a climatic fist fight.

In this case, GAO denied Boston Consulting Group’s protest, which it filed in August.

GAO decided shortly after Thanksgiving that BCG’s pre-award protest didn’t have merit. BCG protested several evaluation factors in the solicitation, including the requirement for offerors disclose breakdowns of their proposed labor rates. GSA said this requirement was to ensure price reasonableness of the services any one company is offering.

BCG complained the requirement violated the Federal Acquisition Regulations and the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) for commercial items.

In denying the protest, GAO wrote the agency reasonably determined that assessing the individual cost drivers associated with each offeror’s unique labor rates was the only acceptable method for making reliable and accurate cost/price reasonableness determinations.

GAO also found the solicitation is consistent with FASA’s stated preference for the acquisition of commercial items as GSA took action to accommodate commercial item contractors and to encourage their participation. GAO also said no other vendor filed a protest and BCG did bid on OASIS+ in the end.

Back to the frontburner

After almost 18 months of being a backburner character, the cloud contract known as ASCEND remerges to launch a new storyline for 2024.

GSA issued its second draft performance work statement for pool 1, which is for infrastructure-and platform-as-a-service, and detailed initial thinking for pool 2, software-as-a-service, and pool 3, for cloud IT services, in late December.

Comments on the draft PWS and details about pools 2 and 3 are due by Feb. 21.

The ASCEND program first burst onto the scene back in April 2022 and GSA released the first version of draft PWS in May 2022.

“The ASCEND BPA will establish baseline requirements for acquisition, business, data, environmental, sustainability, operational and technical requirements,” GSA wrote in the draft PWS. “The BPA establishes baseline governance requirements ensuring procured cloud services and cloud related IT professional services are procured through streamlined acquisitions procedures, maximize cost avoidance and cost savings, are effectively/efficiently operated and managed and leverage the full capabilities and investments of the federal government.”

GSA is planning for a three-year base contract with one three-year option and two one-year options for a total of eight years.

The desire to use cloud services is clear across government. Deltek forecasts that agency demand for vendor-furnished cloud computing goods and services will grow from $15.9 billion in fiscal 2023 to $23.5 billion in 2027.

This is where the soap opera story arc could take a turn: Will industry and agencies see the need for another cloud BPA?

One industry source, who requested anonymity to talk about an ongoing procurement, said BPAs must be based on a bona fide need that is specifically spelled out in the solicitation. GSA says there is such a bona fide need but hasn’t yet detailed which agencies are expected to use the vehicle.

The source said agencies regularly ignore the bona fide need rule.

“It’s hard for companies to bid when there is no there. What incentive is there for people to bid on it? Why spend the money to bid if there is no guarantee anyone will use the BPA?” the source said. “GSA has a track record of BPAs that were flops. There is a lot of concerns around whether this BPA is unnecessary duplication of contracts because what the BPA is potentially offering can be bought under the schedules or other contracts today.”

GSA could still answer the bona fide need question more specifically in the final solicitation, adding some drama to the soap opera.

There are, of course, many more players in this soap opera. The new year brings more excitement over Alliant 3 and COMET version 2, and whether Polaris gets out from under the protest albatross.

So tune in next time for another edition of “As GSA’s Procurement World Turns.”