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Tue., May 29, 2012, 4:27 p.m.

It pays to double-check the competition, and to complain sometimes

Spokane’s Garco Construction has landed a $35.8 million federal contract after challenging an earlier award for the job to an Oklahoma competitor.

Garco bid on the project last year to build a large truck and maintenance shop at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma. Last fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the job to The Ross Group, based in Tulsa, Okla.

Ross Group got the contract even through Garco’s original bid was lower. The federal contract system gives advantages to small companies that are based in “HUBZones,” a geographical category set up by the U.S. Small Business Administration. HUBZone stands for historical underutilized business zone.

Because Ross Group said it was HUBZone qualified, its bid ended higher-rated due to the HUBZone scoring system.

Later Garco challenged the award saying that Ross Group did not meet the HUBZone requirements. As a result the bid process was reopened.

Garco Vice President Hollis Barnett said Garco last week was notified it won the award. The Spokane construction company already has three current projects at the large Lewis McChord base, he said.

Barnett said it's odd and frustrating that he and Garco had to call into question the legitimacy of Ross Group's bid and status. "That's something the federal government should be doing, not competitors," he said.

When Garco first loss the deal, Barnett went to Ross Group's site and did some reading. He found mention of its winning an award and having about $80 million in annual sales. That told him, if correct, that Ross Group couldn't be HUBZone compliant. Only firms with less than $33.5 million in sales qualified.

Once the issue was raised, Ross voluntarily offered the explanation that it had incorrectly filed information about its HUBZone status, Barnett noted. 

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Tom Sowa
Tom Sowa covers technology, retail and economic development and writes the Office Hours blog.