The Army on Monday lost a months-long court battle with Palantir, giving the data-mining company another shot at the program to build the service’s battlefield data management system. The ruling also codifies a requirement for the Pentagon to weigh commercially available technologies before it attempts to reinvent the wheel, according to attorneys who tried the case.

Palantir sued the Army in late June, asserting that its commercial data management system could meet requirements for the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) but that the bid selection process excluded commercially available systems by default. The company already had lost a protest to the Government Accountability Office and therefore took its case to the Court of Federal Claims.

Presiding judge Marian Blank Horn on Monday ruled in favor of Palantir, effectively forcing the Army to reopen the competition. Horn’s ruling was delivered from the bench during a public hearing in Washington, D.C. The written ruling will be published once both parties agrees to redactions, according to the Court of Federal Claims.

DCGS-A Photo: U.S. Army
Photo: U.S. Army

The Army already has spent 15 years and $6 billion developing DCGS, the Army’s current system for intelligence information sharing, processing, operational use and storage. DCGS-A Increment 2 is the Army’s next phase of DCGS-A development. Lockheed Martin [LMT] has built and integrated elements of DCGS.

More is at stake than simply building the DCGS system, work which is worth billions of dollars. The Army plans to re-compete incremental software upgrades and hardware refresh, which means the winner is set up to compete for future contracts for sensors, processors, software and other elements under the same DCGS program.

Palantir contends that its Gotham data management system performs to the Army’s DCGS specifications and that it was unlawfully excluded from competition. Gotham gathers data from multiple sources, shares and analyzes that data across a suite of analytical tools and provides efficient visualizations for use by commanders and soldiers, according to the company’s initial complaint.

“The DCGS program owners seem more intent on protecting their own failed program than on adopting a far superior commercially available technology that has been proven to work,” Palantir said in its complaint. “The Army’s procurement officials are refusing even to consider buying the product that its troops on the ground are consistently telling Army headquarters they want.”

Hamish Hume, a partner in the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which defended Palantir in the case said the ruling is “a landmark ruling that breathes life into a law that has been ignored for far too long.  As the Court held, the law requires the government to make every effort to acquire the best available commercial technology, rather than try to reinvent technology that already exists.”

Hume, who previously represented SpaceX in that company’s 2014 successful bid protest against the Air Force, is referring to the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, the law signed by then-President Bill Clinton to address the infamous cases of government spending $500 for hammers and $600 for toilet seats. No bid protests have been decided under the law until now, according to Palantir’s lawyers.

“This decision is a victory for taxpayers, whose money has been routinely wasted on lengthy and ineffective development efforts. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning have called on the Pentagon to embrace innovation, not resist it, and this court ruling gives innovators like Palantir a fair chance to compete.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who has been critical of the Army’s handling of DCGS, expressed his pleasure that the request for proposals must now be reissued. Hunter sits on the House Armed Services subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities.

“It’s about time this happened, but it’s still amazing that it took a court of law to reveal the truth about DCGS and counter the blatant misrepresentations and falsehoods that originated within a bureaucracy that is supposed to look out for the best interests of our soldiers,” Hunter said in a prepared statement. 

“From the start, this was always more than just a contracting fight.  Soldiers in combat have repeatedly requested an off-the-shelf alternative that they assert saves lives.  In one instance, a commander of a major division called it a matter of life and limb.  The fact that this technology has been repeatedly denied and actively discredited is an example of bureaucracy at its worst.