When late isn't really late


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.


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  1. Government IT systems are notoriously unreliable and are offline for considerable periods of time throughout the day.
    I speak from experience. Government IT practices have gone from bad to worse and just when you think they’ve hit rock bottom, the IT “professionals” manage to find a shovel and pick and keep digging. The private sector would never tolerate the practices seen in government.

    The judge’s ruling was spot on. Any agency unwilling to acknowledge the poor performance of government IT systems needs accept these kind of rulings.

    Prudence demands instructions for any proposal include hand-delivered hard copy submittals along with an electronic copy on a CD prior to the submission deadline.

  2. I bet those companies didn’t win the award anyway since USAID already had a contractor in mind. That’s usually how it goes anyway. Am I being too cynical? Probably but thems the breaks!

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