The protest, filed March 23, 2001, by J.W. Holding Group & Associates, Inc.(JWHGA), an African-American small business food service company in Indiana, alleged that the Marine Corps failed to properly assess the risks and conducted an inadequate price realism analysis of Sodexho Marriott Services, the food service firm formed three years ago in a merger between French-owned Sodexho and Marriott Management Services.

The United States Marine Corps has suspended the implementation of its West Coast Garrison Messhall Food Service Contract to Sodexho Marriott Services this week, pending the outcome of protests filed with the General Accounting Office.

"It is absolutely unbelievable that we have had a Buy American Act since 1933 that directs the federal government to buy American-grown food and American-produced goods, but it doesn't require the U.S. government to contract with American-owned companies for contracts such as these," said James W. Stokes, Jr., Chairman and CEO of JW Holding Group & Associates.

JWHGA has been in the food purchasing, distribution and service business for nearly 30 years. It is the only minority-owned, small business full line food distributor in the country and its subsidiary, eQuality Seal is the nation's only minority-owned buying group. Additionally, JWHGA has been a top-rated prime vendor with the Department of Defense. JWHGA was the only small business to successfully bid on the Marine Corps contract.

The challenge to the $414 million contract alleges that the Marine Corps appeared ignorant of the announced plans by Sodexho Alliance to purchase Sodexho Marriott Services making this firm entirely French-owned and controlled. The legal challenge also contends that the food safety record of Sodexho Marriott Services was not examined. This record includes 24 cases of salmonellosis at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. in 1999; 6 cases of E. coli that led to the termination of the contract between Sodexho Marriott and the State University of New York at Albany in 2000; and the January 2001 incident at the Barnstable, MA High School in which a cafeteria worker sliced off part of a thumb which was then served to a student in a turkey and tomato sandwich.

The protest alleges that Sodexho priced its services artificially low in order to preclude the Marine Corps from selecting the first ever minority- owned small business contractor for a major food service contract. The protest notes that Sodexho's proposal was some $20 million lower than its own bid for the companion East regional contract.

The protest asks the Marine Corps to terminate Sodexho Marriott's contract and either award the contract to JW Holding Group, or reopen the procurement to ensure that there is full disclosure of foreign ownership, food safety, and labor issues.

JWHGA has a successful track record with large government contracts. JWHGA has been a successful Prime Vendor for the delivery of food products to the Department of Justice and to the Department of Defense, most recently by provisioning all U.S. troops in Bosnia.

During the Bosnia contract JWHGA won many awards for activities related to using small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities, women, disabled, and veterans. Seventy-two percent of the food products purchased for the contract were from these small businesses, 99.1 percent of the products were shipped with independent truckers and the fill rating was 99.5 percent. The company received awards for its achievements including Most Valuable Vendor, Outstanding Socio-Economic Program, and best Mentoring Program.

"We've worked on this RFP for almost a full year. We've established a tremendous network of minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned small businesses, and minority and limited resource agricultural producers to source, prepare and deliver high quality food and service to the Marines. Our food service division is comprised of former Marines with more than 65 years of food service experience. To these former Marines and small businesses who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in this effort, the message from the Marines is clear, 'you can cook, wash dishes, be janitors, and be a Marine in the service of your country, but you don't have what it takes to run your own food service company.' Tragically, the U.S. Marine Corps is turning a blind eye to small American-owned businesses while it embraces contracting with foreign-owned and controlled multi-billion dollar conglomerates," Mr. Stokes concluded.

CONTACT: Kim Hunt of J.W. Holding Group & Associates, Inc., 219-926-2500, ext. 221, or jwstokes@jwholding.com