On Nov. 27, 2012, at 3:38 p.m., an employee at Insight Systems Corp., which was bidding on a health services contract, submitted a revised quote to two employees inside the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The deadline for doing so was 5 p.m.
The message reached the first of three agency-controlled servers at 3:41 p.m., but then it got stuck. And it wasn’t until 5:18 p.m. that the email reached the first USAID employee, while the second employee didn’t receive the message until 5:57 p.m.
Around the same time, an employee at another company, CenterScope, which was submitting its own revised quote, sent a submission to the same USAID employees at 4:39 p.m., but that email did not reach the intended recipients until 5:15 p.m. and 6:08 p.m., respectively.
Too late, right?
Not according to U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Francis Allegra.
In a 22-page opinion released Monday, Allegra rules in favor of both contractors in a recent complaint against USAID.
Aside from calling USAID’s decision to reject the quotes because they were late “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law,” the ruling — in case you’re interested — provides a road map of a typical email message through a maze of internal servers.
In this case, the emails were received and accepted by the USAID’s internal server, but they got stuck there for a while and weren’t forwarded to the next server because of an internal error.
The delays lasted as long as more than two hours, but none of the messages made it to their final recipients by the 5 p.m. deadline.
Still, USAID sent both contractors letters days later saying their quotes wouldn’t be considered because, after all, late is late.
Allegra disagreed, sharply
He went so far as to say USAID approached the question of the timeliness of electronic submission “with the zeal of a pedantic school master awaiting a term paper.”
He also ruled that couldn’t see any reason why possession of the quotes couldn’t be effectuated through a government computer server any less than through a clerk in a mail room.
In the end, Allegra’s ruling bars USAID from making an award unless it accepts quotes from both contractors.
Or, he ruled, USAID could start all over with a new procurement.