A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to hold off a $60 million contract awarded to Microsoft to integrate 13 DOI e-mail systems and consider competing bids from Google and others.

Susan Braden, a federal judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, issued a preliminary injunction on Jan. 3 that prevents the DOI from awarding Microsoft a $60 million 5-year contract that would enable the department's 88,000 employees to use Microsoft's e-mail and other software as part of the government's move to Web-based applications software.

Braden said Google had sufficiently established that the DOI violated the Competition in Contracting Act, and without injunctive relief, Google will suffer immediate and irreparable harm.

It would cost Google the opportunity to compete, Braden said.

Allowing the contract to go forward would not only be unfair to other bidders but - because any new software add-ons would have to be compatible with Microsoft’s cloud-based e-mail system - could also allow Microsoft to lock in an insurmountable competitive advantage in future Interior contracts, the judge said.

Google Inc. and Onix Networking Corporation, a licensed vendor of Google products and solutions, jointly had filed a pre-award bid protest on October 29, 2010, challenging the DOI's request for quotation to provide hosted email and collaboration services and supporting limited source justification,' claiming the department had obviously decided in advance to grant the contract to Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite-Federal product.

The company filed an amended complaint challenging the entire procurement on Dec. 30.

Google alleged that the DOI had stifled competition by demanding that all bids include Microsoft's suite of business software, including its Outlook program for e-mail and scheduling.

The Aug. 30 Request for Quotation (RFQ) by the DOI described the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite-Federal (BPOS-Federal) system as the only product with enhanced security and a data-storage infrastructure dedicated solely to the department, Google's complaint said.

The complaint further said that the DOI officials ignored clear shortcomings in the Microsoft product, such as its lack of certification under the Federal Information Security Management Act, and ignored the fact that Google was developing a similar cloud computing system devoted solely to government agencies.

Google met several times with the agency in the year leading up to the RFQ but was told as early as April that it would not be considered, the complaint said.

The department later said that Google was not out of the running and would be given a fair shake but rumors of the agency's strong leaning toward Microsoft ran rampant in the months leading up to the bid.

The key violation in the DOI's bidding process came July 15, Judge Braden said, when the department's assistant secretary for policy, management and budget signed two determination and findings, one describing Microsoft's BPOS-Federal as the department-wide standard for messaging and collaboration and another describing the system as the department-wide standard for computer operating, system desktop and service, office automation, and systems management software.

The judge also said that such a finding would have been approved by both the department's chief contracting officer and in addition, project amount exceeding $50 million, it requires the additional approval of the senior procurement executive of the agency and not the assistant secretary.

In issuing the order, the judge found that Google would probably prevail on the merits and would be faced with competitive harm were the judge not to order a halt to the process.

The court, however, discerns no basis in the present administrative record to support Google's allegations of bad faith and no improper conduct by Microsoft, the actions of which show only competitive zeal and interest in customer satisfaction.

The DOI could appeal against the injunction or it will modify the bidding process.

Google, represented by Thompson Coburn LLP, said it was pleased with the decision.