Artist's conception of the Eastern Shipbuilding Group's offshore patrol cutter concept. (Eastern Shipbuilding)
WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard’s February award of three contracts to develop competing designs for the new Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program has been upheld by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), disappointing rivals Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine.
GAO revealed its decision to the firms on Monday, and the Coast Guard on the following day ordered Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc., and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works to return to work on the preliminary and contract design awards.
Work on the contracts had been automatically suspended since the protests were filed in February.
The Coast Guard announced the decision June 4, but details have not been made public, as the GAO decision was issued under a protective order.
GAO procurement law counsel Ralph White said in a statement that the decision addressed “both the initial protests and supplemental issues raised by the companies.”
GAO, White said, concluded “that the Coast Guard evaluated all offerors’ past performance information reasonably, and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria. GAO also concluded that the protesters’ challenges to the evaluation of technical proposals and the source selection decision did not provide a basis to sustain the protests.”
Attorneys for the five shipyards, White said, have been directed by GAO to read through the decision to identify sensitive information that cannot be released, in order to prepare a version that can be presented to the public. When that’s done, he added, the decision will be made public on GAO’s website, www.gao.gov.
Calls to Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine were not immediately returned late Thursday afternoon.
The service awarded three firm fixed-price contracts on Feb. 11 to continue development of the OPC, the middle-sized design of three major cutter programs now in hand. The OPC, sized between the larger national security cutter and smaller fast response cutter, is expected to replace the Coast Guard’s 210-foot and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters. Plans call for purchasing as many as 25 of the ships, making it the largest government shipbuilding program being sought by competing firms.
Bollinger Shipyards is well-known to the Coast Guard — the Lockport, Louisiana, yard has built a number of cutter classes and is producing Sentinel-class fast response cutters.
Eastern is a relatively new shipyard that has concentrated on building commercial ships at its yard in Panama City, Florida. The OPC would become its first government contract.
Bath Iron Works has long built warships for the Navy, and is building DDG 51 and DDG 1000-class destroyers. It has not built Coast Guard ships since the 1930s, although the yard handled major overhaul work in the 1980s and 1990s.
Huntington Ingalls was deeply disappointed to be left out of the OPC decision. The company builds large national security cutters for the Coast Guard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is the most prolific builder of US Navy ships.
VT Halter specializes in small ship construction in its Mississippi yards, and has built ships for several government agencies.
Of the three firms now moving forward with OPC design work, the Coast Guard plans to pick a single yard to move on to detail design and construction.
Here is the statement from White, managing associate general counsel for procurement law at GAO, regarding the decision on protests filed by Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc., and VT Halter Marine, Inc., B-409541 et al.
“On Monday, June 2, the U.S. Government Accountability Office denied protests by Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and VT Halter Marine, Inc., also of Pascagoula, challenging a decision by the U.S. Coast Guard to award three contracts for preliminary and contract design of the Offshore Patrol Cutter to Bath Iron Works Corporation, of Bath Maine; Bollinger Shipyards Lockport, LLC, of Lockport, Louisiana; and Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc., of Panama City, Florida. Each of these preliminary design contracts is valued at approximately $22 million. The decision addresses both the initial protests, and supplemental issues raised by the companies.
“GAO denied the protests after concluding that the Coast Guard evaluated all offerors’ past performance information reasonably, and consistent with the solicitation’s evaluation criteria. GAO also concluded that the protesters’ challenges to the evaluation of technical proposals and the source selection decision did not provide a basis to sustain the protests.
“GAO’s decision expresses no view as to the merits of the firms’ respective proposals. Judgments about which offeror will most successfully meet the government’s needs are reserved for the procuring agencies, subject only to such statutory and regulatory requirements as full and open competition, and fairness to potential offerors. Our bid protest process examines whether procuring agencies have complied with those statutory and regulatory requirements.
“The full text of today’s decision was issued under a protective order because the decision contains proprietary and source selection sensitive information. We have directed counsel for the parties to promptly identify information that cannot be publicly released so that we can expeditiously prepare and release a public version of the decision. As soon as a public version of the decision is available it will be posted to the GAO website at www.gao.gov.”