If a prospective contractor wishes to file a size protest, it must act quickly: the protester ordinarily has five business days to initiate its protest. But does the deadline get extended if the agency takes corrective action in response to a bid protest?
Maybe, maybe not. A recent SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals decision examines that question.
When we write about bid protest decisions on SmallGovCon, odds are that we’re writing about a GAO decision. For good reason: GAO is the most common forum protesters bring bid protests.
But SmallGovCon readers also know there’s another possible forum for protests: the Court of Federal Claims.
The GAO publishes an annual bid protest report with statistics about the number and effectiveness rate of protests, among other things. But until very recently, we didn’t have much hard data about the frequency and efficacy of COFC protests. The recently-released RAND bid protest report changed that, by including a deep dive on DoD bid protests at COFC.
Let’s take a look.
When an agency takes corrective action in response to a bid protest, the agency voluntarily agrees to do something (such as re-evaluate proposals, re-open discussions, or even cancel a solicitation) to address the alleged problems identified in the protest. Corrective actions are quite common: in FY 2016, more than 23% of GAO bid protests resulted in corrective actions.
But what happens when a protester doesn’t like the scope of the agency’s proposed corrective action? As a recent GAO decision demonstrates, corrective actions can themselves be protested–but challenging an agency’s corrective action can be an uphill battle.
In a GAO bid protest, recovering costs after an agency takes corrective action turns on whether or not the agency unduly delayed the corrective action.
A recent GAO case shows that, in certain circumstances, an agency may be able to fight a protester almost to the bitter end, then take corrective action without necessarily having crossed the “unduly delayed” line.
The GAO sustained 22.56% of protests decided on the merits in Fiscal Year 2016–nearly double the 12% sustain rate reported in FY 2015.
According to the GAO’s FY 2016 Bid Protest Annual Report, the GAO sustained 139 of the 616 protests decided on the merits (that is, cases where GAO actually reached a “sustain” or “deny” decision). The overall effectiveness rate for protesters–a combination of “sustain” decisions, plus the many cases in which agencies took corrective action in response to protests–was 46%, a slight increase over the prior fiscal year.
GAO bid protests were up 3% in Fiscal Year 2015–and protesters achieved a favorable outcome in 45% of cases.
In its Annual Report to Congress on its bid protest function, the GAO provided a look at how protesters fared during FY 2015, as well as the most common reasons protests were sustained.
The GAO sustained only 13% of bid protests in Fiscal Year 2014, down from 17% in the previous fiscal year.
But although some commentators might interpret the numbers as a sign that more non-meritorious protests were filed, the “effectiveness rate” (which measures sustain decisions plus voluntary agency corrective actions) remained steady at 43%. In other words, agencies are taking corrective action more frequently in response to GAO bid protests–but when the agency doesn’t take corrective action, the protester’s odds of success may be long.