GAO: Proposal Deadline Need Not Be Extended If Solicitation Amended

The GAO has held that the deadline for offerors to submit proposals need not be extended when an agency issues an amendment to the solicitation, unless the failure to extend adversely affects competition or was a deliberate attempt to exclude an offeror.

In a recent GAO bid protest decision, the GAO rejected the protester’s contention that the agency should have extended the proposal deadline to allow offerors more time to respond to two amendments–which were issued three days and one day, respectively, before the proposal due date.

The GAO’s bid protest decision in Harmonia Holdings, LLC, B-407186.2, B-407186.3 (Mar. 5, 2013), involved a Social Security Administration solicitation for geographic information system services.  The SSA issued the solicitation on July 27, 2012.

In August, Harmonia filed a pre-award GAO bid protest.  The agency elected to take corrective action, and the GAO dismissed the protest as moot.  The SSA subsequently revised and reissued the solicitation and extended the deadline for proposals to November 30, 2012.

On November 27, the SSA issued amendment 6 to the solicitation, which provided answers to two questions from offerors.  On November 29, the SSA posted amendment 8 to the solicitation, which provided answers to 15 additional questions.  Amendment 8 stated that the answers to those questions were immaterial to proposals, and therefore the proposal due date was not extended.

Harmonia filed a second pre-award bid protest, arguing in part that the SSA had not allowed sufficient time for offerors to revise their proposals following the issuance of amendments 6 and 8.  The SSA replied that offerors had been given four months to prepare their proposals and that any proposal adjustments in response to amendments 6 and 8 would be minor and could be accomplished without an extension of the deadline.

The GAO agreed with the SSA.  It wrote that “[t]here is no per se requirement that the closing date in an negotiated procurement be extended following a solicitation amendment.”  Rather, “[t]he decision as to the appropriate preparation time for the submission of offers lies within the discretion of the contracting officer.”

Although the GAO will review an allegation that the contracting officer abused that discretion, “[w]e limit our review of such determinations to the questions of whether the refusal to extend the closing date adversely impacted competition and whether there was a deliberate attempt to exclude an offeror.”

In this case, the GAO held that Harmonia had not show that the substance of amendment 6 should have required more than 3 days to respond.  Similarly, the GAO held that offerors did not need more than one day to respond to amendment 8, especially since the amendment “indicated that the additional details being requested were not necessary for the preparation of a proposal.”  The GAO rejected this ground of protest, and denied Harmonia’s bid protest.

The Harmonia Holdings GAO bid protest decision demonstrates that offerors must be prepared to respond quickly when an agency issues a last-minute amendment to the solicitation.  Contracting officers are afforded significant discretion in determining whether an amendment warrants an extension to the proposal due date, and the GAO will not overturn the contracting officer’s decision except in unusual circumstances.

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