If You Hire the “Godfather” of the Predecessor Contract to Help Draft Your Proposal, You Might Have an OCI

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The agency awarded the contract to the protester but canceled the solicitation after it determined the protester had a conflict. The protester objected to the cancellation, arguing the agency hadn’t sufficiently proven a conflict. The court denied the protest. The protester had hired a former agency employee to help with proposal drafting. That employee had overseen day-to-day operations of the predecessor contract. The court referred to the employee as the “godfather” of the predecessor contract. The agency reasonably concluded the protester’s use of this individual gave rise to the appearance of a conflict.

Trace Systems Inc. v. United States, COFC No. 22-404C


The Air Force issued a solicitation for communications support services. Seven offerors, including Trace Systems and the incumbent, General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), submitted proposals. The Air Force awarded the contract to Trace. GDIT and other unsuccessful offerors filed GAO protests. The Air Force took corrective action to reevaluate and perhaps reassess its needs.

During corrective action, the Air Force decided to cancel the solicitation. The Air Force said the award to Trace was tainted by a conflict of interest. Additionally, the Air Force noted, its requirements had change. Moreover, the agency believed the existing solicitation contained redundant criteria. The Air Force awarded GDIT a sole source bridge contract to cover the time it would take to resolicit the requirements.

Trace filed a protest with the Court of Federal Claims, challenging the cancellation and the GDIT bridge contract.



Trace contended the Air Force had unreasonably determined the initial award was tainted by a conflict. Trace reasoned the determination was based on innuendo and faulty assumptions, not “hard facts.”

The court rejected Trace’s contentions. Trace had hired the Air Force’s former Chief of Plans and Requirements for Central Command. This individual had overseen the day-to-day operations of GDIT’s predecessor contract. He had received daily briefings on the procurement and summaries of the estimated costs on individual task orders under the contract. The court opined this agency employee had been the “godfather” of the predecessor contract. And he had still been working for the Air Force during the preliminary planning for the new solicitation.

Trace had hired this agency employee as a special projects manager. He reviewed drafts of Trace’s proposal and assessed Trace’s responsiveness to the requirements. It was not unreasonable to conclude that he had provided Trace with non-public, competitively useful information. At the very least, this gave rise to the appearance of an unequal access conflict.

Redundant Criteria

The Air Force also canceled the solicitation due to redundant evaluation criteria. Trace claimed this was arbitrary and no redundancies existed. The court notedit lacked the technical expertise to really discern whether the criteria were redundant. Nevertheless, the court reasoned, it would not substitute its own judgment for that of the agency. The court deferred to the agency’s discretion on this issue.

Changed Requirements

The court further found cancellation was justified due to the Air Force’s changed requirements. Among other things, the Air Force no longer needed satellite communication or or Afghanistan support. The Air Force also had a new requirement for network operations that wasn’t included in the original solicitation.

Bridge Contract

Trace objected to the sole-source bridge contract awarded to GDIT. The court found Trace lacked standing to object. To have standing, Trace would have to allege it could provide the services required by the contract immediately. Trace hadn’t met this requirement. It only made conclusory allegations about being capable of performing immediately.

Trace is represented by Lee Dougherty, and Everett Dougherty of Effectus PLLC as well as Daniel Forman, Cherie Owen, and Isaac Schabes of Crowell & Moring LLP. The intervenor, General Dynamics Information Technology, is represented by Noah B. Bleicher, Nathan E. Castellano, Scott E. Whitman, and Carla J. Weiss of Jenner & Block, LLP. The government is represented by Reta E. Bezak of the Department of Justice.

–Case summary by Craig LaChance, Senior Editor