The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is sustaining a protest by Microsoft after the company complained that the National Security Agency (NSA) improperly evaluated proposals for cloud services in support of NSA’s classified and unclassified computing requirements when it awarded a contract to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The original request for proposal (RFP) was issued on Nov. 5, 2020 and was meant for a single indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract with a five-year ordering period, and an option for an additional five-year ordering period. The contractor is meant to provide all types of cloud services for NSA’s classified and unclassified security levels.

According to GAO, Microsoft protested the contract award on a number of fronts, and GAO sustained the protest on only one of those issues.

“Microsoft alleges the significant weakness assigned to its technical proposal regarding the security authorization process for new service offerings was unreasonable. Specifically, the protester contends that the agency’s evaluation was based on a flawed and unreasonable reading of the proposal,” said GAO in its decision. “Here, we agree with the protester and sustain on this basis.”

Microsoft’s protest was sustained by GAO on Oct. 29, but that decision was kept secret until now under a protective order to allow opportunities for redaction of classified and proprietary information by all legal parties involved.

Microsoft raised numerous challenges to the NSA’s evaluation of proposals, including challenging the agency’s evaluation under the technical factor, improper evaluation under the management factor, and alleging that NSA’s best-value selection decision was improper with NSA failing to meaningfully consider Microsoft’s lower price as part of the price/technical tradeoff.

“In light of our determination that certain aspects of the evaluation of technical proposals were not reasonable, and our corresponding recommendations, we need not determine whether the agency here failed to meaningfully consider price, or departed from the solicitation’s stated evaluation scheme, as part of its selection decision,” wrote GAO.

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GAO is recommending that NSA reevaluate technical proposals, consistent with this decision, and based on that reevaluation, perform a best-value tradeoff and make a new source selection decision. If this reevaluation determines that Microsoft offers the best value to the government, NSA should terminate AWS’ contract for the convenience of the government and award to Microsoft, GAO recommended.

MeriTalk reached out to AWS for comment on the proposal, with the cloud services provider saying: “AWS is honored to have been selected as the cloud provider for the NSA’s Hybrid Compute Initiative, and we remain committed to supporting the NSA’s critical missions.”

News of the contract fight first came to light in August.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.