The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that Shirlington Limousine & Transportation Inc. — a bit player in the corruption case that sent former Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California to prison — didn't have standing to sue over a DHS transportation contract because it hadn't submitted its bid for the contract on time.
Shirlington contended it went to great lengths to file by DHS' deadline, even hand-delivering its proposal to a government official on the morning of the deadline, but it wasn't received on-time.
"Because plaintiff did not timely submit a proposal, plaintiff ... cannot establish 'interested party' status," Judge Susan G. Braden wrote in a 21-page order. "Although plaintiff may perceive the court's ruling as harsh, the prohibition against late bids" is meant to alleviate confusion and ensure equal treatment of bidders, the ruling said.
Braden's order contained no reference to the Cunningham case, even though Shirlington had argued that DHS was trying to shut it out of competing for transportation contracts in order to "relieve some of the political pressure" from members of Congress.
No Shirlington officials were ever charged with wrongdoing in the Cunningham matter, but Baker appeared before a grand jury in San Diego as investigators sought to determine whether a defense contractor had provided Cunningham with prostitutes and limos.
Shirlington subsequently was featured in several angry congressional hearings about why it was able to get more than $20 million in Homeland Security contracts despite a history of problems including poor service on other contracts and Baker's criminal record.
Shirlington had pointed to Homeland Security's decision to solicit transportation proposals last year without a set-aside for small businesses called HUBZone, for Historically Underutilized Business Zone.
The court's decision drew an angry response from Shirlington President Chris Baker.
"Certain members of congress have had an issue with a black man having a $21 million contract. The DHS assault against Shirlington Limousine for the past year will have negative affects on nearly 14,000 businesses around the country who have HUBZone contracts," he said. "This is an unfortunate day for HUBZone companies and for African-American business owners."
After the congressional hearings on Shirlington's contracts, the Department of Homeland Security redid its transportation contracting and determined it was impractical to have a HUBZone set-aside. The Small Business Administration criticized that decision, but in March the General Accounting Office denied a protest by Shirlington.
"We are pleased with the court's decision upholding DHS's position," said DHS spokeswoman Laura Keehner. In response to Baker's comments, she said: "Our position is to continue to ensure a fair and competitive procurement process."