As anyone in the federal contracting line of work knows, deadlines come at you fast and hard. In a recent GAO decision, GAO refused to relax the timeliness rules associated with protests of solicitation requirements, even where that left the contractor with very little time to protest.
Strong working relationships between contractors and contracting officers are a significant asset. For example, the Customs and Border Patrol recently relied heavily on its experience working with the incumbent contractor to “infer” proposed technical approaches and award corresponding strengths. Unfortunately, when this award was subsequently protested, GAO did not agree with the Border Patrol’s inferential technique. As GAO explained, a reviewing agency may not credit a bid with technical strengths that are not present within the proposal.
GAO’s bid protest window for debriefings—which closes 10 days after the required debriefing—knows very few exceptions. But what if the agency offers you a more informative post-award debriefing in place of the pre-award debriefing normally required upon your elimination from the competitive range? This option will likely improve your ability to compete for future contracts with the agency. Shouldn’t you be able to accept it without giving up your right to protest? GAO says no.
Supposedly, the general rule is that a protester is reimbursed the costs associated with a successful protest—including attorneys’ fees. But, as a recent case shows, that’s often not the case.
In a March decision, GAO recommended award of only a portion of fees associated with bringing a protest, even though GAO agreed that the protest was correct and the awardee should have been found technically unacceptable.
Your company has submitted a proposal for a Lowest-Priced, Technically Acceptable acquisition. To your surprise, you find out another company has submitted a technically acceptable offer with the same price. Equally surprising, the solicitation does not contain any provisions instructing the agency on how to pick from otherwise equal bids. So what is the contracting officer to do – issue an order for a standoff, a la the O.K. Corral? (For the record, we do not advise this as a viable method of conflict resolution.)
Fortunately, GAO encourages a less drastic solution–use of the contracting officer’s reasonable discretion.