BNUMBER:  B-266049
DATE:  January 26, 1996
TITLE:  G. H. Harlow Company, Inc.

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Matter of:G. H. Harlow Company, Inc.

File:     B-266049

Date:     January 26, 1996

Paul J. Holma, Esq., Bradach Law Offices, for the protester.
Nicholas P. Retson, Esq., and Michael J. O'Farrell, Jr., Esq., 
Department of the Army, for the agency.
Christina Sklarew, Esq., John Van Schaik, Esq., and Michael R. Golden, 
Esq., Office of the General Counsel, GAO, participated in the 
preparation of the decision.

DIGEST

Protest that salient characteristic for a fire-detection system 
solicited on a brand name or equal basis is unduly restrictive of 
competition is denied where the contracting agency reasonably 
determined that the requirement is a necessary safety feature.

DECISION

G. H. Harlow Company, Inc. protests that certain specifications 
included in invitation for bids (IFB) No. DAHA30-95-B-0006, issued by 
the Departments of the Army and the Air Force, National Guard Bureau, 
for a fire-detection system, are unduly restrictive of competition.  
In particular, Harlow challenges the method specified for manually 
checking the integrity of the system's remote transceivers.

We deny the protest.

The IFB seeks bids for construction of a base-wide fire-detection 
system for the Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, 
including a supplementary water supply connection and fire alarm 
detection systems in various buildings.  The portion of the 
solicitation at issue here involves the installation of a radio-type 
fire reporting system.  The IFB, as amended, requires the contractor 
to supply and install Monaco Enterprises, Inc.'s model D-700 or equal.  
The IFB describes the salient characteristics of the brand-name system 
and lists the installation and operational standards that must be met.  

The type of fire-detection system being procured consists of a central 
base station and numerous transceivers located throughout the 
installation.  In the event of a fire, the transceivers transmit 
signals to the base station; based on those signals, the system 
operator in the central base station is able to identify the location 
of the fire.  Systems of this type include a means of verifying that 
the remote transceivers are functioning properly.  In this case, the 
IFB specifies that radio transceivers in the various remote locations 
must respond to test interrogations from the central base station, 
indicating the operational status of the transceiver.  Thus, if the 
transceiver is operating abnormally in any way, for example because of 
a power failure, a low battery, or tampering, the abnormal condition 
would automatically be reported in a display at the central base 
station when the test interrogation is initiated.  The IFB specifies 
that remote radio transceivers include a radio receiver and 
transmitter to allow an interrogation/reply technique in which the 
transceivers are interrogated at regular intervals automatically, and 
that the system also be capable of being tested manually from the 
central base station radio equipment with replies returned by the 
remote transceivers indicating transceiver status.  

Harlow argues this "two-way" system, which Harlow complains is unique 
to Monaco's equipment, is not the only means available to manually 
test transceiver integrity, and that the specified system exceeds the 
agency's actual needs.  Harlow points out that either system permits 
manual operation, and argues that since the only difference between a 
one-way and a two-way system when operated manually is the location 
from which the test signal is initiated, the two-way system does not 
provide any higher level of safety or service.  The protester contends 
that reliance on a manual test signal initiated from the remote 
transmitters as opposed to from the base receiver is allowed by the 
standards of the National Fire Protection Association, which is cited 
in the IFB as applicable.   

In response, the agency states that it has determined that its 
protection and safety needs dictate a system that permits manually 
initiating test procedures to verify system integrity and operation 
from the base station.  According to the agency, therefore, a one-way 
system, which requires the remote transceivers to initiate the test 
signal, does not meet its minimum needs. 

Contracting agencies have broad discretion in identifying their needs 
and determining what characteristics will satisfy those needs.  
Bombardier, Inc., Canadair, Challenger Div., B-243977; B-244560, Aug. 
30, 1991, 91-2 CPD  para.  224.  The fact that specifications are based upon 
a particular product is not improper in and of itself; nor will an 
assertion that a specification was "written around" design features of 
a particular product provide a valid basis for protest if the record 
establishes that the specification is reasonably related to the 
agency's minimum needs.  Hewlett-Packard Co., 69 Comp. Gen. 750 
(1990), 90-2 CPD  para.  258.  When a protester challenges a salient 
characteristic included in a brand name or equal solicitation as 
unduly restrictive of competition, we will review the record to 
determine whether the restrictions imposed are reasonably related to 
the contracting agency's minimum needs.  Herley Indus., Inc., 
B-246326, Feb. 28, 1992, 92-1 CPD  para.  243.

We think the agency reasonably could conclude that a greater degree of 
control and safety would exist when the central system is capable of 
initiating a manual test, compared to the one-way system Harlow 
describes.  Moreover, with respect to solicitation provisions relating 
to human safety or national defense, we have held that an agency has 
the discretion to set its minimum needs so as to achieve not just 
reasonable results, but the highest possible reliability and 
effectiveness.  LIPS Propellers, Inc., B-256713, July 15, 1994, 94-2 
CPD  para.  26.  In this case, we see no basis to object to the agency's 
determination that because a two-way system allows the base station to 
initiate a test independently and receive confirmation of proper 
operating conditions without reliance on the actions of each remote 
location, the two-way system provides the degree of protection 
necessary to meet the agency's safety requirements.  In our view, the 
agency has provided a reasonable basis to support its determination of 
its minimum needs.  See Herley Industries, Inc., supra.[1]

The protest is denied.

Comptroller General
of the United States

1. Because we have determined that the one salient characteristic 
being challenged-- the two-way fire detection system--was legally 
unobjectionable, and because Harlow acknowledges that it could not 
meet this requirement, we need not discuss the protester's general 
objection to the use of a brand name or equal specification.  Since 
Harlow is ineligible for award, it is not an interested party to 
protest the brand name or equal specification.  See 4 C.F.R.  sec.  21.0(a) 
(1995) ; Mar-Mac Precision Corp., B-221561, Jan. 22, 1986, 86-1 CPD  para.  
72.