GPO Buy of Anti-Suicide Gun Locks for VA – An Update  
By Alan Chvotkin
PSC EVP and Counsel
Oct. 15, 2019

In my September 12, 2019 column, raised questions about a protest at the GAO of the VA’s planned use of the Government Publishing Office (formerly the Government Printing Office) to acquire anti-suicide gun locks and printing instructions. That case addressed the applicability of the VA’s specific statute to give priority to veteran-owned small business. GAO said the use of GPO without adhering to that law was appropriate but recommended that the VA take corrective action. When the VA issued a new request to GPO, and GPO issued a new invitation for bid (IFB) for an unrestricted competition*,  Veterans4You again protested, but this time it took its complaint to the Court of Federal Claims. Now, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (COFC) has weighed in on this same case.²  

While this COFC’s September 27, 2019 published decision focused primarily on the application of the so-called “Veterans Rule of Two” statute to this procurement, it still left unanswered whether the VA appropriately used the GPO to acquire the gun locks that included printing services. The COFC acknowledged but deflected the issue. In a footnote, the Court said:

“Plaintiff’s argument that the GPO is not properly conducting the Solicitation because only a small percentage of the cost of the contract will involve printing services is also unconvincing. The administrative record makes clear that the purpose of the Solicitation is to help prevent suicides among Veterans and that the information to be printed on the gunlocks and the wallet cards are an essential element of the contract.” ³

OK, but so what? In the GAO decision, and now with the COFC decision, I didn’t question whether printing was an essential element of the procurement, only that it was not the most important component or the most costly component; simply, without the acquisition of the anti-suicide gun locks themselves, only the stand-alone wallet card would have any use. And there is still no discussion of where or how GPO was going to acquire those gun locks so that they could add the required printed information. I also didn’t question the GAO or the COFC analysis or decision of whether the VA “Rule of Two” was properly decided, although there is room for that debate, as well. 

However, I am concerned that these two decisions – which essentially ignore the primary purpose of the acquisition – could create an end-run around not only the VA “Rule of Two” but other procurement provisions and processes, as well. It is worth our continued attention. 

*The COFC 9/27/19 decision (see Note below) included an unexplained footnote that, during oral argument, the Government said that a new IFB would be issued by GPO in September 2019. The relationship between the June IFB and the September planned IFB was not further explained. 
²See Veterans4You v. U.S. COFC 19-931C (9/27/19), available here

 ³Ibid, at Note 4.