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We find no merit to this aspect of Harkcons protest. The protester also contends that, because the MPM served as chief of the training division at the time the agency issued the RFI which preceded the solicitation, the MPM had access to the RFI responses. Contracting officers are assigned several responsibilities in this area. We disagree that the agencys OCI mitigation plan effectively mitigated the impaired objectivity OCI identified by HPES. As set forth below, the record reflects that the contracting officer reasonably investigated and considered whether an OCI exists, and SMS has failed to identify hard facts indicating the existence or potential existence of the alleged conflict. The memorandum concludes by describing how, after two rounds of revisions to the plan, these concerns were addressed to the agencys satisfaction. [2] AR, Tab 40, Final MSI OCI Mitigation Plan, at 1-22. The contracting officer then points out other provisions in the OCI plan that identify other specific positions as being responsible for assessing potential OCIs. Here, the record shows that the contracting officer identified a conflict of interest issue, but undertook no actions to safeguard the procurement process. Thus, where, as here, the record establishes that a conflict or apparent conflict of interest exists, and the agency did not resolve the issue, to maintain the integrity of the procurement process, we will presume that the protester was prejudiced, unless the record includes clear evidence establishing the absence of prejudice. As noted above, the contracting officer represented to our Office that, upon reading STOPs letter of protest, she determined that it included the awardees proprietary information from its quote. However, there is nothing in the record to show that the contracting officer--or anyone else in the agency--ever actually investigated the possible PIA violations that could arise as a consequence of the alleged disclosure, or receipt, of BIs allegedly proprietary information.As noted, the agency performed an investigation into Metriss alleged OCI. In addition, the investigator concluded that the labor rates for the TTSS contract would not have been competitively useful to Metris in any event because they were well below the current market rate (approximately 21.1% lower than the next lowest bidder), were established by Leidos (the prime contractor under the TTSS contract) not Harkcon, and all but two of the labor categories were subject to the Service Contract Act wage determinations which were posted publicly. As to this allegation, the investigator found that the MPM did not have access to the RFI responses. In any event, the information provided in those responses would not have been competitively useful. First, a CO is required to identify potential conflicts of interest as early in the acquisition process as possible. Second, a CO is expected to anticipate potential significant conflicts, and recommend steps to resolve such conflicts, before the solicitation is issued. As relevant here, if a CO determines that an apparent successful offeror has a conflict that cannot be avoided or mitigated, the CO is required to either: (1) notify and advise the contractor of the conflict and allow the contractor to address the conflict; (2) withhold the award, if after notifying the contractor, the CO concludes that the conflict cannot be resolved; or (3) submit a request to waive the conflict. During the development of the protest, our Office requested that the agency provide any existing documentation of the COs analysis regarding HPESs OCI mitigation plan, as opposed to the analysis performed in the solicitation planning phase. In response, the agency stated that [o]ther than what has already been submitted in the [a]gency [r]eport, there is no other documentation regarding the [COs] analysis of HPESs OCI mitigation plan.[16] Agency Response to GAO RFI at 2. The agency contends that on these bases any actual OCIs are eliminated. Here, the fact that the agency identified a potential conflict of interest during the solicitation planning process, and attempted to provide generalized mitigation measures in the solicitation, did not address whether an award to a particular offeror, like HPES, would create an OCI. Thus, we have no basis to question the contracting officers conclusion that ASMRs participation in this procurement does not raise potential OCI concerns. The PWS for the Accenture task order required the contractor to assess the current VA National Service Desk management, operations, procedures and processes and recommend comprehensive improvements in the form of a to-be-model. As part of its performance of the NSD assessment task order, Accenture prepared and submitted an OCI mitigation plan so as to prevent organizational conflicts with future VA requirements. Notably, however, Accenture did not prepare a set of requirements, or work statement, for performance of the NSD function. The contracting officer explains the VA ordered the Mc Kinsey study of the NSD function because it found the earlier Accenture study to be so generic in nature, and to obtain the assistance it needed to generate [the] PWS for the NSD re-compete effort. In addition to the recommendations included in its study, Mc Kinsey also drafted proposed PWS language for the VAs consideration for use in the subsequent NSD solicitation. Next, the memorandum discusses how the contracting officer, the TEC chair, and office of general counsel representatives reviewed MSIs initial OCI plan and identified various concerns with it. Additionally, the plan includes detailed assessments of the potential OCI risk associated with the tasks in the SOW. Thus, this type of OCI was to be addressed through the use of a firewall and nondisclosure agreements. In support of this claim, Social Impact points to a provision within the plan stating that MSIs [DELETED]. The contracting officer states that assigning responsibility to this group of personnel is appropriate because they are ideally suited to have the knowledge of the situational context [and] to review [SOW] and other taskers from USAID for possible OCIs. The first of these provisions states that the OCI analysis includes AR, Tab 40, Final MSI OCI Mitigation Plan, at 9. On the record here, we see no basis to question the contracting officers judgment. might be viewed as a way of currying favor for future work with MSI, such an approach risks exposure during [peer] reviews of the published evaluation with the accompanying damage to such a subcontractors reputation . As stated above, the general rule is to avoid strictly any conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest . The agency has never identified the information that the contracting officer concluded was proprietary to [BI Incorporated] BI, and from a reading of the protest letter and its accompanying exhibits, it is not apparent or obvious to us what information the contracting officer identified as proprietary. Rather, the contracting officer states only that the alleged OCI on the part of STOP (rather than any possible violation of the PIA) has been referred to the agencys office of professional responsibility for investigation. Other than referral of STOPs alleged OCI to the agencys office of professional responsibility, the record is silent on the question of actions taken by the agency to investigate or resolve the possible PIA violations that are implied by the contracting officers representation.We review the reasonableness of a contracting officers OCI investigation and, where an agency has given meaningful consideration to whether a significant conflict of interest exists, we will not substitute our judgment for the agencys, absent clear evidence that the agencys conclusion is unreasonable. Biased Ground Rules A biased ground rules OCI exists where a firm, as part of its performance of a government contract, has in some sense set the ground rules for another government contract by, for example, writing the statement of work or the specifications: the primary concern is that the firm could skew the competition, whether intentionally or not, in favor of itself. E.g., The Jones/Hill Joint Venture, B-286194.4 et al., Dec. In that protest, DRS alleged that based on the findings of the OCI report, the PWS for the FOFH task order overstated the agencys actual requirements and thus prevented a fair competition. In the alternative, to the extent the Army argued that the solicitation accurately reflected the agencys requirements, DRS contended that LMIS would have an impaired objectivity OCI as it would be responsible under the FOFH task order for evaluating the deliverables it produces under task order 57. For example, the agencys OCI report makes no mention of the PWS requirement that the awardee review and report issues with system developer deliverables, which DRS alleges would require LMIS to review the documentation deliverables it provides under task order 57. AR, Tab 27, DRS Technical Proposal, at 10; AR, Tab 31, LMIS Technical Proposal, at 12, 16.

Instead, Safeguard represented that there were no OCIs and that no mitigation was necessary despite representing that "[u]nder this contract [Safeguard's parent company] processes Medicaid [c]laims" for those states. B, Disclosure of Contracts at B-25, B-33, B-34, B-45 (in each instance summarily concluding that "no OCI exists with the UPIC IDIQ contract therefore, no mitigation is necessary"). at B-26, B-33, B-34-35, B-45-B-46; See also AR, Tab 3d1, Safeguard Conflict of Interest and Compliance Program Response at 16 (stating that Safeguard determined "[a]fter thorough review of the UPIC [j]urisdiction and these contracts . The CO's preaward OCI memorandum, the stated purpose of which "is to document the [CO's] identification, evaluation and determination of significant (actual, apparent or potential) [OCIs]," also fails to address Safeguard's parent company's contracts. As such, the agency contends that no impaired objectivity OCI will result from award to LMIS, given the relatively basic nature of the testing required under the FOFH task order and the fact that LMISs software deliverables under task order 57 have already been fully tested by the government. With respect to the testing and evaluation requirement contained in section 3.1.2 of the PWS, we find that the agencys OCI analysis was reasonable and supported by the record.

Specifically, the protester asserts that this individual entered Metriss employ to assist the awardee in proposal preparation for the [Training and Analysis Support Services] TASS competition, and to serve as its program manager (the MPM) for the TASS effort. B-412866: Jul 14, 2016)The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requires that contracting officials avoid, neutralize, or mitigate potential significant conflicts of interest so as to prevent an unfair competitive advantage or the existence of conflicting roles that might impair a contractors objectivity. The situations in which OCIs arise, as described in FAR subpart 9.5 and the decisions of our Office, can be broadly categorized into three groups: (1) biased ground rules; (2) unequal access to information; and (3) impaired objectivity. FAR 9.505(b); Cyberdata Techs., Inc., B-411070 et al., May 1, 2015, 2015 CPD 150 at 6. A protester must identify hard facts that indicate the existence or potential existence of a conflict; mere inference or suspicion of an actual or potential conflict is not enough. The advisor began working for Old SAIC in 2002, and began assisting with that firms support of the Armys AIE requirements in 2009. These activities included, at a minimum, preparation of the solicitation and the governments estimate, as well as participation as a subject matter expert advisor throughout the source selection process.

According to the protester, the individual in question had access to competitively useful, nonpublic information about the protester and provided that information to the awardee during its proposal preparation efforts. As a further response to Social Impacts claim, the contracting officer describes how she reviewed the plan at length, and was satisfied that the specific measures within it would adequately neutralize or mitigate potential unequal access to information OCIs. As relevant here, a biased ground rules OCI arises where a firm, as part of its performance of a government contract, has in some sense set the ground rules for the competition for another government contract. In these cases, the primary concern is that the firm could skew the competition, whether intentionally or not, in favor of itself. Conflicts of interest may also arise in the context of individual contractor employees who assist the government during procurements, and are typically called PCIs. Request for Dismissal, Contracting Officers Statement, at 4; Contracting Officers Statement at 9.

Nonetheless, the agency considered the protest allegation and found that no OCI existed. More importantly, however, the CO found that while AFS might identify changes to source systems that were necessary for compliance purposes:in order for IBM or any other contractor to make recommendations for the potential changes to the source systems, the [g]overnment must vet the recommendations to ensure that the guidance is being properly implemented. The CO exercised her judgment by reviewing the relevant facts and concluding that the advisors prompt disclosure of information, subsequent disposition of the stock, and the scope of his role in advising the agency, addressed or mitigated any potential concerns regarding a PCI. Transactions relating to the expenditure of public funds require the highest degree of public trust and an impeccable standard of conduct.

In investigating the allegations raised by AFS, the contracting officer (CO) evaluated the scope and tasks of the FSPS contract, and spoke with the current contracting officer for the effort in order to discuss the scope and tasks to be performed under the FSPS contract. With regard to the protesters allegation that IBM may have made recommendations impacting the GFEBS RFTOP/SOW, the agency first explained that the GFEBS task order and the DSPS contract are managed by different contracting offices with different program managers. Any policy change, compliance measure, or updated guidelines that are needed to be implemented in order to be compliant with the Treasury or [Office of the Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)] will be thoroughly vetted by the government to ensure compliance. On this record, we find no basis to conclude that the COs judgment was unreasonable, and thus no basis to sustain the protest. The general rule is to avoid strictly any conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest in Government-contractor relationships.

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