Documents released after the U.S. Court of Federal Claims denied a protest filed by . (SNC) to prevent the U.S. Air Force recompeting its Light Air Support (LAS) contract depict a shambolic source selection and potential bias toward SNC, offering the Super Tucano.
The court ruled against all but one of the challenges filed by SNC after the Air Force decided to restage the competition in response to a protest filed by losing bidder (HBC), offering the AT-6. The court ruling was filed under seal on Oct. 15 and released in November.
One argument was accepted in part by the judge, and could still influence the competition’s outcome. The ruling requires the Air Force to evaluate whether congressional earmarks for Air National Guard light-attack demonstrations with the AT-6 violate a ban on government funding for LAS development.
HBC filed its court protest in December 2011 after being disqualified from the original LAS competition, which resulted in SNC being awarded a $350 million contract for 20 Super Tucanos to be provided to the Afghan National Army Air Corps.
The protest was dismissed after the Air Force cancelled SNC’s contract and called for new proposals to be evaluated against an amended solicitation. Contract award is now planned for Feb. 15.
SNC filed a post-award protest to prevent the Air Force implementing the corrective action, arguing it reversed the determination made during the first evaluation that the AT-6 proposal was not within the competitive range, and which led to HBC’s disqualification.
The Air Force proposed corrective action in response to HBC’s protest after discovering flaws in the source-selection process. Issues included an “incomplete and disorganized” record, destruction of documents by the program manager and late discovery of other data.
According to the court document, an Air Force review concluded the program manager was “uncooperative,” argued with attorneys and repeatedly attempted to decide which documents were legally relevant.
The review, and a subsequent investigation, “revealed evidence of bias in favor of SNC,” says the court document. Flight demonstrations may have contributed that bias. During the demonstrations, a production Super Tucano was seen to meet the LAS requirements, while an AT-6 prototype did not.
The Air Force concluded demonstration performance was “used to justify technical capability and not solely to assess risk,” as was the intent, the court document says. The Air Force eliminated the demonstrations from the restaged competition.
SNC’s protest against this move was denied by the judge. The court found the decision to remove the demonstration requirement from the risk assessment for the new solicitation was “reasonable in the circumstances.”
The court also ruled it was “rational and reasonable” for the Air Force to take corrective action in response to HBC’s protest, and that its decision to cancel SNC’s contract and resolicit proposals should stand.