Protest of Alleged Restrictive Specifications

B-202782: Oct 8, 1981

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A firm protested an allegedly restrictive specification in an invitation for bids issued by Langley Air Force Base for electronic mailing systems. Specifically, the protester contended that the requirement that the electronic mail systems must be manufactured by only one company was unduly restrictive of competition. The record showed that the procurement, which was conducted on a brand name or equal basis, was for eighteen mailing systems, each consisting of an electronic scale, automatic mailing machine, semiautomatic mailing machine, an interface device, and software to integrate the hardware into one complete system. Although the protester does not manufacture mailing machines, it does manufacture scales and interface devices. Consequently, the requirement that the system be manufactured by only one company precluded the protester from offering its own equipment in conjunction with mailing machines manufactured by another company. Further, the protester argued that, since there are only two mailing machine manufacturers, the competition is restricted to those two companies. In response to the protester's allegations, the Air Force stated that the new systems were being purchased to replace stand-alone equipment. The specifications for the new systems were developed by using information obtained from other Air Force activities, and it was generally found that activities with mixed systems encountered difficulty in the repair and maintenance of such systems. GAO held that the contracting agency failed to establish that the requirement for a system manufactured by one company was necessary to meet its actual minimum needs. The only support offered by the agency for its position consisted of the unsupported assertion that repair and maintenance problems have been experienced by other activities with mixed systems. Therefore, the requirement is unduly restrictive of competition. Accordingly, the solicitation should be canceled and the requirement resolicited without the restrictive specification.