Army bid frustrates

Garco plans to compete for new Lewis-McChord project

Spokane’s Garco Construction worked hard for nearly a year to win a $35 million contract to build a large maintenance building for the Army near Tacoma.

They lost the bid to another company.

When Garco learned an Oklahoma firm last year was awarded the contract at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, managers pointed out that the winners should have been disqualified for misrepresenting its annual revenue in the bid process.

Six months later, the Army Corps of Engineers reversed their decision and awarded Garco the contract, acknowledging the Oklahoma firm probably fudged its numbers to get the bid.

Then this summer, as Garco prepared for its first site meetings, the Army again switched plans.

This time the Corps of Engineers canceled the contract, which was to be the first of 14 maintenance buildings built at military bases across the Western United States.

“The decision-making by the government in this case is unexplainable,” said Garco Vice President Hollis Barnett. “It’s one of the most frustrating federal contracts we’ve been involved with.”

Garco generates about 30 percent of its annual revenue from federal contracts, Barnett said. It has competed for federal or military projects across the western half of the country for more than 30 years.

The company is one of Spokane’s largest contractors. The only one larger is Lydig Construction, which in 2010 generated total revenue of $320 million compared to Garco’s $200 million.

Barnett tends to pick his words carefully, but he concludes this was a contract that defies “any logical rationale at all.”

Not only did the Corps of Engineers not identify the false numbers that allowed the Oklahoma firm to land the first award, the federal agency then spent six months reviewing its bids before making the award to Garco in May, he said.

“They spent six months making a decision that you and I would have been able to get done in less than a day,” he said.

After awarding Garco the contract in May, the Army Corps of Engineers further messed things up, Barnett said.

At that point the bid process involved identifying four companies who would be the qualified firms to continue bidding on the next 13 maintenance buildings the Army wanted to build at other bases.

Barnett noted that the Oklahoma contractor was one of the final four. Also, the government added another company in the group – Mortenson Construction – that Barnett said never should have qualified.

Those decisions ignited protests by other firms that didn’t qualify, including Puyallup, Wash., firm Absher Construction.

Other factors complicated the process, too, including the expiration of some of the authorized money set aside in federal budgets for the new facilities, Barnett said.

The delays and grinding of the process pushed the Army to scrap the whole 14-project expansion. Instead the Corps of Engineers has told five of its regional offices to pursue single-bid projects to build facilities.

The Seattle district will seek bids by October for the Lewis-McChord project.

Barnett said Garco will compete for that contract.

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