Tuesday Insight – July 5th, 2022: GSA Hits the Play Button on POLARIS by Finalizing Solicitation Updates

Jul 11, 2022

After nearly a two-month pause, the POLARIS small business IT services governmentwide acquisition contract is back in play.

The General Services Administration re-released the solicitation on June 30 with updates to the mentor-protégé and joint venture experience submission requirements, the definition of relevant experience and the documents needed to establish the mentor-protégé or joint venture relationship.

Small businesses have until Aug. 10, to submit their bids, for this 10-year contract that could be worth tens of billions of dollars, but has no specific ceiling. Questions about the RFP are due to GSA by July 12.

“Overall, I think the RFP looks good. It is more in line with the original draft, with respect to mentor-protégé/join ventures, and seems to have clarified many of the ambiguous instructions,” said Courtney Fairchild, the president and CEO of Global Services, a proposal services firm, in an email to Federal News Network. “I think it strikes a good balance between small business prime/subcontractor teams and MPJV teams. Overall, I am not disappointed with the RFP. GSA listened to feedback before final release.”

The mentor-protégé and joint venture submission requirements have been at the heart of the concerns about POLARIS over the last few months.

Relevant experience updates

GSA now is requiring mentees to provide at least one example of relevant experience and limits mentors to only three examples. Previously, there were no limits or minimums for either mentor or protégé. This experience can include task orders under the schedules or a blanket purchase agreement, a single contract or subcontract and, just added, other transaction agreements (OTAs).

“It seems like GSA is just following the NITAAC book with the protégé experience requirements — i.e., requiring one experience example from the protégé to show some experience. This is what I thought they were going to do,” said Cy Alba, an attorney with PilieroMazza in Washington, D.C. “The Small Business Administration regulations do not provide direct guidance on this question and so it does seem like agencies have some level of discretion in making the determination about how much experience the protégé would need to show. That said, they cannot discriminate against protégés as that would violate SBA regulations. Unfortunately, the law is not clear on where that boundary lies and, if protested, it will be up to GAO or the Court of Federal Claims to make that determination.  This is consistent with other compromises on the issue though, like CIO-SP4.”

Additionally, the new solicitation tells vendors to detail “the work done and qualifications held individually by each partner to the joint venture as well as any work done by the joint venture itself previously. If any partner or the joint venture itself has no previous work done or no qualifications held, this should be stated” in the submission forms.

A third change would let mentor-protégé teams and joint ventures can submit relevant experience of their subcontractors as part of their bid as long as the experience happened under the joint venture umbrella.

“I’m sure some of the experience requirements, like requiring at least 6-months of performance, or how IDIQ contract value is calculated, may bring the ire of some small businesses but I am not sure those requirements are legally objectionable,” Alba said.

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