GAO upholds protest on Census mobility contract

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The Government Accountability Office put the brakes on a $238 million contract for the Census Bureau’s 2020 mobility operations, sustaining a bid protest filed by AT&T.

The protest is covered by a protective order, requiring GAO to redact information prior to its public release, but the Oct. 5 sustainment decision effectively undoes a July award to CDW-G to provide mobile devices and field testing for the bureau’s enumeration operations.

GAO officials released a statement outlining some of the details surrounding the decision, saying that AT&T’s protest challenged the Census Bureau’s “conduct of discussions, evaluation of proposals and selection decision.”

“GAO sustained the protest, finding that the agency conducted unequal and misleading discussions, and failed to adequately document its evaluation and selection decision,” said the statement from Kenneth Patton, managing associate general counsel for procurement law at GAO.  “GAO recommended that the agency reopen the competition, conduct discussions, accept and evaluate revised proposals and make a new selection decision.”

The contract was set to provide the Census Bureau with 400,000 mobile devices — starting with 75,000 by August 2019 — for enumeration and follow up as the agency attempts to upgrade its information collection efforts from traditional paper-and-pen efforts.

It is unclear what effect the protest sustainment will have on the Census Bureau’s timeline for testing and deployment, especially since the contract must be re-competed. Requests for comment from the Census Bureau were not returned by publication.

Census and Commerce officials recently received a congressional grilling from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after it was revealed that only four of the 43 new or improved information technology systems for the upcoming 2020 census were fully delivered and tested.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the committee that the delays were the result of over-optimism by the department and over-promising by contractors.

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2020 census, AT&T, CDW-G, Census Bureau, GAO, Wilbur Ross