A recent Government Accountability Office decision to uphold the protest of a contract award related to background investigations will only add to the current processing delays affecting government and industry.
The National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB) has been working to improve processing times after inheriting a 500,000+ investigation backlog when it was formed last year. The Office of Personnel Management hired 400 employees in FY 2016 and promised to hire an additional 200 in the coming year. In September, the agency announced four contracts had been awarded to help increase the number of contract investigators involved in the workload, and fill the void created by the demise of USIS.
The contested contract involved background investigation support services and was awarded to Primus Solutions. In January, Next Tier Concepts and MAXIMUS Federal Services protested the award, arguing the cost estimates were unrealistic. The bidding firms were informed the agency would consider price and non-price factors, but Primus Solutions won the bid with an amount $9 million below one competitor and $44 million below the other. The protests argued Primus Solutions’ proposal should have been flagged for a lack of ‘technical understanding’ which caused it to underbid in several key areas.
In response to the protest OPM argued it was not required to perform a ‘price realism analysis.’ OPM was aware the bid included many line items below the Independent Government Estimate, but despite multiple rounds of discussions concerning cost, the issue of how Primus was going to provide the technical capability at the cost proposed was not addressed, according to the GAO.
The GAO report concluded by requesting OPM re-open solicitation for the contract and allow the contesting companies to re-bid, along with working with Primus (once they’ve hired a new Program Manager (PM); the GAO report noted the initial PM was unavailable).
The report is bad news and bad news for individuals enduring the current industry 500+ day wait for a Top Secret security clearance. This contested contract contributes to the backlog in two ways. Yet another contract for investigator support is held up with new investigators unable to contribute to the backlog. And OPM is being required to pay for the attorney fees of the contractors who contested the initial ruling – further draining funds used to pay for the background investigations themselves.