WASHINGTON — The U.S. Government Accountability Office on Aug. 11 said it had denied a protest by satellite broadband services and equipment provider Hughes Network Systems over a contract award to Artel for satellite communications support to the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).

According to a notice on the GAO website, the SSA in December 2013 requested price quotations for satellite services for a base period of one year with four one-year options through the Custom Satellite Communications 2 contracting vehicle managed by the General Services Administration. The request laid out minimum qualifications including three years’ experience managing a national network with 500 downlink sites, including offshore sites such as Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. The provider also was required to have completed a repointing of downlink antennas at 800 ground sites without a service interruption, the GAO said.

Germantown, Maryland-based Hughes and Artel of Herndon, Virginia, responded to the request, and the SSA made the award to Artel in March. According to the GAO, Hughes quoted a price of $22 million, while Artel’s was $18.5 million.

Hughes then protested, saying the SSA erred in judging that Artel met the minimum qualifications as outlined in its request for quotation.

SSA responded to the protest with a so-called corrective action that entailed re-evaluating the bid prices and making a new contract award. At that point, the GAO dismissed the protest as academic.

However, as part of the corrective action plan, Hughes and Artel were asked May 5 to resubmit their bids. This triggered a second protest from Hughes, which argued that SSA had given Artel an unfair competitive advantage by giving it a chance to revise its bid despite the fact that the original solicitation remained unchanged. The proper remedy, Hughes said, was to find Artel’s bid technically unacceptable and make the award to Hughes.

In denying the second protest, the GAO argued that the SSA’s corrective action was well within the scope of what is permitted for federal contracting agencies and noted that Hughes also was allowed to submit a revised bid. “In sum, we find that the agency’s decision to address the concerns raised in Hughes’ initial protest through corrective action was reasonable, and that the agency was within its discretion to request revised quotations from the vendors,” the GAO said.

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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...