The U.S. Navy Office of Information a.k.a. the Chief of Naval Information (that’s really a person) a.k.a. CHINFO (both person and office) is contracting out portions of its Pentagon-based public affairs operation.

But the contract award is months past due, leaving companies dismayed, mystifying those on contingent indenture, and leaving some unemployed.

In 2008, the CHINFO’s request for proposal (RFP) was met with great interest. A number of PR and defense whales answered the mid-year RFP. Bids were due in August, and the winners were to be announced in September.

It’s February, and no award.

The process hit a mine when Vox Optima LLC lodged a protest, though things were moving again by November, when the GAO nixed the beef. But in December, when a decision was (again) expected, the Navy asked bidders to extend their proposals through January. Companies believed the Navy would announce its decision days into 2009. That optimism apparently was misguided: In late January, bidders again were asked to extend their proposals, this time through the end of February. Sources say the Navy expects an announcement by Feb. 15, but who knows? This latest delay has been pegged to the Defense Contract Audit Agency review of the rates on all submitted proposals. Sources say this is normal. (Sources have consumed the Kool-aid.) While it appears there might be concern over additional protests, it seems fear now drives the process. Punish the innocent!

Sources say the CHINFO contract is to be awarded to multiple companies. Myriad subcontractors and other hangers-on await. There have been sightings of out-of-work hired guns loitering in the Pentagon’s South parking lot, looking for plumes of white smoke to billow from the College of Commanders. (We made that up.)

The Navy has been emphatic that this contract does not replace naval personnel. Maybe they’ve been a little too emphatic. We thinks “he” doth protest too much. If the sea service is looking at a upping its fleet to 313 ships or more, those sailors will have to come from somewhere. (We’re just speculating. No one has actually said the Navy needs more people to man all the new ships it anticipates.)

Never a service known to embrace change, the CHINFO contract is said to increase the capacity of an overtaxed public affairs effort. Maybe this means the media desk will return calls about popular topics like the overbudget (read: budgetless) littoral combat ship, the dead-on-arrival USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), and the CNO’s penchant for race-based awards. (At a recent Naval Academy alumni feed outside Washington, D.C., CNO Adm. Gary Roughead shared his plans for enhancing the Navy’s race-based recruiting efforts.)

But we digress.

The Navy might announce its CHINFO award sometime in 2009.

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