GAO’s Electronic Filing System: First Impressions

SmallGovCon readers may recall that, in 2016, the Government Accountability Office proposed an electronic filing system for bid protests. GAO released a pilot version of its new system earlier this year, and Koprince Law LLC has had the opportunity to test it on several occasions through our bid protest work.

Here are some first impressions on GAO’s Electronic Protest Docketing System.

EPDS is very functional and easy to use. If you’ve ever clicked a link, selected an option from a drop-down menu, and uploaded a document to a website, you’d have no problems using the system. But even if you did run into trouble, GAO has published a comprehensive user guide and videos that thoroughly explain how to use the system.

Upon logging in, the user’s dashboard displays a list of each protest it has pending before GAO. This list provides basic information about the protest—GAO’s docket number (or “B-number”), identification of the protester and agency, filing date, next due date, and case status. From this page, users can also file a new protest (once that feature is active upon EPDS’s formal roll-out) or intervene in a protest that’s currently pending.

Users can drill-down into each individual protest to view even more detailed information, like the solicitation number, whether there is an intervenor or if the protest is consolidated, the protester’s size status, and the identification of the GAO attorney considering the protest.

Links to filed documents also appear on this page: if allowed access by GAO, users can view the protest, agency report, comments, and any other filings made. It’s from this page that users can also file documents—a pretty simple process of selecting the type of filing from a drop-down menu, then attaching a PDF document. Registered users are notified of each filing via an instantaneous email and can access filed documents right away.

Overall, we are very impressed with EPDS. But there are a couple tweaks that could make the system even more useful:

  1. A messaging function. We don’t mean an instant messaging function [does anybody miss AIM?], but instead an email-esque function where parties can discuss routine matters with GAO. For example, we recently needed to request access to a document following our admission to a protective order; rather than simply sending a message within EPDS, we had to prepare and upload a letter. GAO responded immediately, but sending an internal email would have been more efficient. EPDS does have a “no objection” button, which allows users to, for example, easily state that they have no objection to a protective order application. But a broader, simple messaging function would be useful for other quick communications.
  2. Indefinite storage of protest documents. Before EPDS, it was up to the parties how they would store bid protest documents. And under the pilot program, it still is. But could a party use EPDS as its primary document storage system? This could be a great convenience for bid protest attorneys, especially if certain documents will remain accessible on EPDS even after a protest is closed. That said, we would caution against any requirement that litigants only store documents within EPDS—even in 2018, there will still be occasions where an attorney or pro se protester will need access to protest documents offline.

These issues don’t detract from EPDS’s functionality or its ease of use. GAO has obviously paid significant attention to developing an easy-to-use system. As EPDS is rolled-out, we expect it will be proven a tremendous leap forward for the GAO bid protest process.