Harkcon Inc was an unsuccessful bidder on a Coast Guard contract to provide training support services at Coast Guard training centers and support units throughout the country. When the award was made to Metris LLC, Harkcon alleged that Metris had an unequal access to information OCI (Organizational Conflict of Interest) that the Coast Guard failed to investigate. You see, Metris had hired a former Coast Guard employee who, while employed by the Coast Guard, was the chief of the Coast Guard's Forces Readiness Command's Training Division where Harkcon (the protestor) had worked as a subcontractor. His role as chief provided him access to nonpublic, competitively useful information about Harkcon.
Harkcon argued that this former Coast Guard employee had entered Metris's employ to assist it in proposal preparation for the training contract and to serve as its program manager (the Metris Program Manager or MPM) for the training effort. By way of his recent position, Harkcon alleged that the individual had access to competitively useful, nonpublic information about Harkcon and provided that information to Metris during proposal preparation efforts.
According to FAR 9.5, there are three broad categories of OCIs; biased ground rules, unequal access to information and impaired objectivity. Harkcon alleged the second of the three categories; unequal access to information. When appealed, the GAO reviews the reasonableness of a contracting officer's OCI investigation and where an agency has given meaningful consideration to whether an OCI exists, the GAO does not substitute its own judgment for the agency's, absent clear evidence that the agency's conclusion is unreasonable.
In this case, the Coast Guard performed an investigation in Metris's alleged OCI. The investigation found that the employee did not have access to procurement sensitive or competitively useful information either relating to performance of the training contract or to proposals that were submitted for the contract when it was competed. Further, the employee did not have access to any Coast Guard systems that contained procurement-sensitive, financial, proprietary, or performance information. Although the GAO stopped short of commending the Coast Guard OCI investigation, the decision made clear that the investigation was thorough.
GAO denied the protest. You can read the entire decision here. From a lessons learned standpoint, Harkness should have hired the retired Coast Guard guy before Metris did <grin>.