WASHINGTON — After SAIC of McLean, Va., snatched more than $1 billion in NASA business away from Wyle Laboratories in August following a successful bid protest, Wyle hit back Sept. 3 with a protest of its own, asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review Johnson Space Center’s awarding of the agency’s main space medicine contract.

Wyle, the incumbent since 2003 under a predecessor bioastronautics contract, appeared to have NASA’s follow-on Human Health and Performance contract locked up. After a nearly yearlong competition, NASA announced in March it was giving the contract, worth up to $1.76 billion over 10 years, to Wyle. SAIC protested NASA’s decision, prompting the agency to withdraw Wyle’s award and restart the competition. 

This time, SAIC walked away with the work, clinching the contract with a lower offering price than Wyle, according to a source selection document signed by Melanie Saunders, competition advocate at the Johnson Space Center’s Office of Procurement in Houston. 

“I am confident that either offerer could successfully perform” the contract work, Saunders wrote in the 14-page source selection statement posted on NASA’s website. However, “SAIC had a strikingly lower probable cost in contrast to Wyle,” Saunders concluded after a July 29 meeting with senior officials at Johnson. The cost gap between the two proposals was not disclosed. 

The Human Health and Performance contract is a follow-on to the approximately $1 billion NASA Bioastronautics contract that Wyle had held since 2003 and that expired in April. NASA wanted to begin work under the new contract by Oct. 1, but the double protest complicated matters and forced NASA to reactivate Wyle’s old contract. 

“NASA has extended the Bioastronautics contract with Wyle to ensure that the work conducted under the contract is not affected during the protest,” agency spokeswoman Rachel Kraft wrote in a Sept. 18 email.  

The Human Health and Performance contract would be managed at Johnson for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Human Research Program. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract’s 10-year performance period includes a five-year base period, one three-year option and one two-year option.

By law, federal agencies must stop work on a contract if the award has drawn a protest. Agencies can override the work stop if they demonstrate, publicly and in writing, that there is an urgent need to begin work in spite of a pending protest, or if it is in the best interest of the country to do so. Alternatively, agencies can choose to order the services they need under an old contract. 

The contract supports science and engineering work for programs including the international space station; the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle NASA is building for future deep-space missions; the human spaceflight division’s Advanced Exploration Systems office; the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program; and the Space Technology Mission Directorate.

A spokesman for Wyle, Dan Creeding, declined to comment about the company’s bid protest, on which GAO has until Dec. 13 to rule. NASA has until Oct. 3 to brief GAO on the arguments Wyle made in its protest. 

SAIC spokesman Gary Bracken likewise declined to comment.

NASA spokesman Joshua Buck, reached by email Sept. 17, had no immediate comment about the contract.

Privately held Wyle does not disclose its annual revenue. According to the company’s website, business from its “core customers,” NASA, the Defense Department and big U.S. aerospace contractors, accounts for about $1.1 billion a year. Wyle bought its way into NASA’s space-medicine research and engineering programs in 1998, when its acquired Krug Life Sciences, a longtime NASA contractor dating back to the Apollo era in the 1960s. 

For the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, and excluding unfunded backlog, about $2.79 billion of SAIC’s $11.2 billion in revenue came from the company’s Health, Energy and Civil Solutions segment. Earnings from NASA Health and Human Performance contract will be booked in this segment, provided SAIC’s award survives Wyle’s challenge.

Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...