For the second time, the Coast Guard has withheld awarding a disputed contract for cleaning the fuel tanks and bilges of ships that come to the Curtis Bay shipyard for repairs.
The contract, first advertised nearly a year ago, has been bogged down since by protests over the eligibility of bidders, sparking charges and countercharges about the fitness of the competitors.
Sue White, chief of procurement at the Coast Guard supply center at Curtis Bay, said yesterday her office has concluded that all of the eligible bids are unreasonably high and that the bidding should be repeated.
"Hopefully, the next time around we'll end up with a contract," she said. "I hope we end up with a good deal for the government."
In September, the Coast Guard announced its intention to award the contract, worth about $500,000 over three years, to A&A Environmental Services.
But the contract was reserved for small businesses, and a competing bidder complained that A&A was too big to qualify.
Although the protest was filed too late, the Coast Guard decided not to give the contract to A&A. It then turned to the next lowest bidder, Clean and Safe Environments Inc.
That decision also sparked protests. Stuart Paul, now a key employee of Clean and Safe, was convicted in 1987, before he joined the company, of stealing fuel from Navy and Coast Guard ships at a base in Key West, Fla.
A&A officials said their company might be ineligible because of its size but that Clean and Safe should not get the contract because of the theft conviction of Stuart Paul, a salesman for Clean and Safe.
The issue was further complicated by the fact that Mr. Paul's wife is one of the owners of Clean and Safe.
Thomas W. McCarty Jr., president of Clean and Safe, has argued that Mr. Paul was punished for the crime and should not be penalized further.
This time around, Ms. White said, the bidding will not be limited to small businesses. She said she hopes the contract can be awarded by June.