GAO Denies Ball's JPSS Bid Protest, Orbital ATK Resumes Work – UPDATE

GAO Denies Ball's JPSS Bid Protest, Orbital ATK Resumes Work – UPDATE

UPDATE, July 28, 2015:  GAO has now released the full text of its decision.  A link is provided below.

ORIGINAL STORY, July 21, 2015.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a bid protest by Ball Aerospace against NASA’s award of a contract to Orbital ATK to build spacecraft for NOAA’s Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).  Details of GAO’s ruling have not been released, but the decision to deny Ball’s protest was issued on July 16.

Ralph White, GAO’s Managing Associate General Counsel for Procurement Law told that the decision is covered by a protective order and GAO is waiting for the parties to “promptly” identify any information that cannot be publicly released.  Once they have received those replies, a redacted version of the decision will be released to the public.

In an emailed statement, White explained that Ball argued that Orbital ATK’s “lower-priced, but lower-rated proposal” should not have won because it “violated the terms of the solicitation” and the proposal evaluation “was unreasonable.”  GAO found “no basis to sustain the protest,” however.  He also said that the delivery order to Orbital ATK is valued at $470 million “while Ball’s price for the spacecraft was significantly higher.”

JPSS is NOAA’s new polar-orbiting weather satellite system, designed for the civil sector after the NOAA-DOD-NASA National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program was cancelled due to years of schedule delays and cost overruns.   JPSS is a NOAA program, but NASA is the satellite procurement agent for NOAA and thus the JPSS contract is controlled by NASA.

To accelerate the availability of JPSS-1, NASA awarded a sole source contract to Ball Aerospace to build another spacecraft similar to that used for NASA’s Suomi-NPP, which is now in orbit. JPSS-1 is scheduled for launch in 2017.

This contract is for JPSS-2, with options for JPSS-3 and JPSS-4.   Congress is providing full funding for JPSS-1 and JPSS-2, but is less enthusiastic about funding JPSS-3 and JPSS-4, which is called the Polar Follow On (PFO) in NOAA’s FY2016 budget request.  NOAA is requesting $380 million for PFO in FY2016.  The House zeroed the request in its version of the FY2016 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill.  The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $135 million.

JPSS-2, however, is in fine shape budgetarily.  NOAA wants to launch it no later than the fourth quarter of FY2021.   NASA awarded the contract to Orbital ATK on March 24, 2015, but work was suspended on April 8 after Ball filed its protest.   NASA spokesman Stephen Cole said that NASA notified Orbital ATK on July 17 that the suspension was lifted and directed the company to resume work.

The contract is valued at $253 million for JPSS-2 and $217 million for JPSS-3 and JPSS-4 options.  Orbital ATK will design and fabricate the spacecraft, integrate government-furnished instruments, conduct satellite-level testing and support in-orbit check-out and mission operations, the company said when the contract was awarded in March.  The spacecraft is based on the LEOStar-3 platform used for several NASA satellites, including Fermi, Swift, Landsat-8, and ICESAT-2, as well as commercial imaging and defense satellites.

Orbital ATK Space Systems Group Director of Communications Vicki Cox said today that the company is resuming work pursuant to NASA’s direction and looks forward to providing “critical weather forecasting data for the next several decades.”

Ball Aerospace Media Relations Manager Roz Brown said via email that while the company is “obviously disappointed” with the result, it appreciates the GAO review process.  She added that the company has the option of asking for reconsideration after reviewing the public version of the decision, but “we have no present intention to ask” for it.  She also said that the company hopes to have the public version in a week to 10 days.

On July 28, GAO released the full text of its decision.

For more on NOAA’s satellite programs, see our fact sheet “NOAA’s FY2016 Budget Request for Satellites.”

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