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Small Business Research Fund Awards

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On Tuesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied Advanced Photon Applications’ (APA) bid protest. APA took exception to the Department of the Army’s decision not to award it Phase I research funds under the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funds program.

Small Business Innovation Research Program

Federal agencies conduct the SBIR program pursuant to federal law (the Small Business Innovation Development Act), which requires that certain federal agencies reserve a portion of their development and research funds for awards to small businesses. For its SBIR program, the DOD will issue an SBIR solicitation that lists specific research topics for which it will consider proposals.  Under Phase 1, small businesses are invited to test the technical and commercial merit of a certain concept. If the small business succeeds during Phase 1, it may apply for a Phase II award to further develop the concept. After Phase II, the small businesses are expected to obtain funding from non-SBIR sources to further develop the concept.

In this case, the Department of the Army’s solicitation sought proposals for a laser spot-tracking missile seeker. The Department required that the product track the target even when in the presence of a bright background source (i.e. the sun). The Army’s solicitation provided that it would evaluate proposals against three factors: 1) technical merit; 2) the proposed staff’s qualifications; 3) and the item’s commercial potential. The solicitation stated that the Department could make zero, one, or even multiple awards.

The Army evaluated twenty-three proposals; the Department ultimately funded three of the proposals. APA’s proposal ranked 18th of the proposals received.

Report from the Government Accountability Office

In the GAO’s report, the Army identified specific weaknesses in APA’s proposal. For example, although the solicitation required the design to track the target when in the presence of a bright background, APA failed to address how its design would limit special radiation (i.e. background radiation that can be confusing to technicians reading the instrument). Similarly, the Army noted that APA did not explain in detail how it planned to accomplish its required tasks. For example, in one of APA’s listed tasks, it stated that the length of the lens array “needs to be carefully selected” and the transfer function slope “needs to be maximized.” Unfortunately for APA, it provided no further details. Finally, the Department found that APA’s proposal did not include a section addressing its technology’s commercial potential.

According to the GAO’s rules, the offeror is responsible for submitting an adequately written proposal; where the offeror fails to do so, it runs the risk that the Department will not accept its offer. Ultimately, the GAO determined that the Army acted reasonably when it found that APA did not submit an adequate written proposal.

Interested in Government Procurement?

Although the Army did not select APA’s proposal, it remains plausible that APA could have succeeded with better planning, attention to detail, and overall due diligence. In this regard, the attorneys at Whitcomb Law, P.C. focus on government contracting and procurement. If you are a small business interested in learning more about the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research program, contact Whitcomb Law, P.C. today.

About the AuthorJoe Whitcomb

Joe Whitcomb is the founder and president of Whitcomb, Selinsky, PC (WSM). In addition, he manages the firm and heads up the Government Procurement and International Business Transactions Law sections. As a result of his military service as a U.S. Army Ranger and as a non-commissioned officer in the Air Force, he learned mission accomplishment. While serving in the Air Force, he earned his Bachelor’s in Social Sciences and a Master’s in International Relations. His Master’s emphasis was on National Security and International Political Economics. After his military career, Joe attended law school at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.


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