By Gloria Larkin
There was recently tumult in the Court of Federal Claims when it affected two huge government-wide acquisition contracts ― Polaris and OASIS+ ― that are controlled by the General Services Administration (GSA).
When it ruled that GSA’s interpretation of Section 876 of the 2018 Defense Authorization was too broad as applied to the Polaris small business Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC), the Court threw a tight wrench into a (nearly) five-year industry effort to transform the culture of federal contracting.
The Court’s decision not only forces GSA to pause its efforts in relation to Polaris, but it also requires the Administration to make a substantial change to its strategy for OASIS+, the follow-on multiple award contract for professional services.
GSA originally intended not to consider price, or at least not include price as an evaluation factor, in the request for proposal. However, based on the judge’s decision, it will now include a price evaluation factor in the RFP to ensure agencies can do the types of contracting that are desired at the task order level.
The Court also ruled GSA applied Section 876 statute too broadly in the case of Polaris, saying price was not necessary as an evaluation factor for the main contract. GSA said agencies could award task orders under Polaris that were time-and-materials, labor hours, cost reimbursement and firm fixed price, with a preference for firm fixed-price-type contracts.
The decision of the Court, however, just does not mean a delay in the release of the OASIS+ final solicitation or awards under Polaris. It also creates a major roadblock in GSA’s effort to modify how agencies evaluate and award GWACs, as well as multiple-award contracts.
Look for the Office of Management and Budget’s summer release of draft guidance about the Biden administration’s new rules concerning use, and the risks, of artificial intelligence by federal agencies.
The OMB guidance will set policies for agencies concerning the development, procurement, and use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, while safeguarding the rights of the public. A senior administration official recently told reporters that the upcoming draft guidance reflects the reality that “AI is coming into virtually every part of the public mission.
“Our North Star here is this idea that if we’re going to seize these benefits,” the official said. “We have to start by managing the risks.”
OMB expects the guidance will enable agencies to tap into AI tools to accomplish their missions while equitably serving Americans and serve as a template for state and local governments.
The senior administration official also said agencies and industry need to confront a wide array of potential risks from AI tools, notably safety and security concerns that stem from autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity tools.
In addition, agencies also need to be wary of AI’s impact on civil rights, including bias embedded in AI tools used in housing or employment decisions and the use of AI tools for surveillance.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has launched a new Historically Underutilized Business Zone preview map, which shows that hundreds of firms in newly-released designated underserved areas will become eligible to apply for HUBZone certification. The update will enable these companies to compete for billions of dollars in federal contracts set aside for HUBZone-certified firms.
“By channeling a record $14 billion in federal purchases to HUBZone-certified small firms last year, the Biden-Harris Administration gave a critical financial boost to hundreds of entrepreneurs in economically disadvantaged rural and urban areas,” said Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. The preview map reveals changes that are scheduled to take effect on July 1 that reflect updates from the 2020 U.S. Census.
The DoD is issuing a final rule amending the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement. It will delete two clauses and the associated prescription that are no longer necessary.
The rule implements Section 815 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which strengthened the requirement that DoD establish a goal to pay small business contractors within 15 days of receipt of an invoice. It involved striking the language “if a specific payment date is not established by contract” and “if the prime contractor agrees,” and replacing it with “if the prime contractor agrees or proposes.”