– By Tom Dunlap

If you place a bid on a federal government contract and are unhappy with the result, you can file a protest with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Your protest can challenge the award of the contract, the terms of the solicitation, or any other procurement action by federal government agencies. Likewise, you can also file a protest against procurement actions by non-federal agencies such as state governments. There are also a few exempt federal agencies, which include the US Postal Service.  This article focuses on bid protests in U.S. Federal government contracts.

Who Can File a Protest?

Only an “interested party” can file a bid protest. That usually means someone who was an unsuccessful bidder, or a potential bidder who is objecting to the terms of the solicitation.

The contracting agency will provide a response to your protest, and sometimes they need to include sensitive or confidential data. In such cases, the GAO may issue a protective order on proprietary documents. You don’t need an attorney to file a protest, but only attorneys can request access to any material that is subject to a protective order. Additionally, the contracting agency may request that the successful bidder intervene and support the awarding agency’s position.

What Are the Deadlines for Filing a Protest?

If you are protesting the solicitation, you need to file before the deadline for the receipt of proposals. If the problem only arises in a later stage of the process, for instance in the solicitation of an additional proposal, the deadline for filing is before the submission deadline of the solicitation that gave rise to your objection. To put it simply, you should file a protest as soon as you become aware of the problem, and well before the process closes.

If you want to protest the award of a contract, the deadline is very short. You only have 10 days from the date on which you first became aware of the basis for your protest, meaning 10 days from the day you first learn your bid was unsuccessful. If you are able to request a debriefing and ask for one, the 10 days start on the day you attend your debriefing meeting. Days means calendar days, and if the deadline falls on a day the GAO office is closed, it will extend to the next business day.  It is usually a good idea to request a debriefing and ask your attorney to accompany you in person if possible.

What Should I Include?

Your protest has to include all of your personal contact information as well as a statement that outlines the legal and factual grounds for your protest, including any relevant documents. You need to demonstrate why you’re an interested party, and you must specifically request a ruling by the Comptroller General of the United States. Finally, you need to specify exactly what kind of relief you are looking for.

What Happens Next?

The agency in question will have 30 days to file its report on your protest. If a protective order exists, your attorney can file for access. You will then have 10 days to provide your response to the agency’s report. The GAO has sixty days to issue a decision based on your protest. In that time, they can request additional documents, hold a hearing, or try to resolve the matter through alternative dispute resolutions. As a practical matter this often takes significantly longer as issues arise involving discovery of relevant documents.

The GAO has built up quite a library of bid protest decisions, and your success will rest largely on your ability to understand the reasons for which other bidders have won (or lost) their protests. Although you do not require attorney representation to file a bid protest, professional help can help ensure your protest includes all the necessary information. They will also ensure that you have access to all necessary documents, and will represent you well in either a hearing or in any dispute resolution.an also ensure that you have access to all documents, and are well represented at either a hearing or in any dispute resolution.

 

Posted in: Government Contracts