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JLTV Protest: Big Contract, Big Stakes

In these days of tanker, CSAR-X and other protests it will probably come as small surprise that Northrop Grumman has filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office since it lost on its bid to gain part of the $100 billion or so Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.

"After careful examination of the data presented at the Nov. 5 [bid] debriefing, it is apparent that inconsistencies in the bid and evaluation process unfairly placed the Northrop Grumman team at a competitive disadvantage. Northrop Grumman requests that the GAO examine the process, which it believes is marred by unstated requirement changes and arbitrary maturity ratings," the company said in a press release.

One is tempted to say, here we go again. But John Young, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and his procurement policy guru, Shay Assad, told reporters Oct. 30 that this year has not been an extraordinary one for protests and that, in some ways, it was actually quieter than many years past. Assad promised to come up with data to back up his claim and I understand it is still being compiled and should be in our hands shortly.

But I recently got copied on an email from a senior DoD official that made clear the building is now looking over its shoulder on virtually every major contract award. And a senior Pentagon official told me last week that one reason that the Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) contract award has been delayed was caution in the face of possible protests: "We want to make sure we've done it right and crossed every T and dotted every I." So I bet that grinding sound is generated by John Young's teeth as he contemplates another program delayed and opened to the possibilities of becoming a political football.

Northrop really went on the offensive in its press release, sounding not unlike Boeing in the opening days of its tanker protest. "Northrop Grumman offered the best solution for a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, clearly meeting the battlefield needs of our nation’s warfighters," the company said, adding that its version possesses "the most innovative design" and is "significantly" cheaper than its competitors.

Addressing what sounds like DoD's main points against the offering from Northrop and Oshkosh, the release goes on to say that "American warfighters deserve more than last year’s model, hastily retrofitted for rapid deployment." This clearly points to concerns voiced that the Northrop version was not sufficiently mature.

Here is the technical breakdown of the factors Northrop wants GAO to consider.

"The SSA [source selection authority] misapplied the stated evaluation criteria, elevating maturity level subfactors to a super factor status. The evaluation also reflected an unannounced agency decision to transform the solicitation from a TD phase to a defacto System Design & Development (SDD) effort.

"The SSA relied unreasonably on company self-evaluations of design maturity and failed to conduct an adequate, independent assessment of the submitted designs.

"The value of a demonstrator was not made clear, nor did the SSA make a meaningful assessment of demonstrator vehicles and their relevance to proposed designs.

"Cost was undervalued by the SSA in its determination, disregarding the significant cost savings offered by Northrop Grumman."

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