GAO bid protests filed by small businesses are (statistically speaking) less likely to succeed than protests filed by large contractors, according to the RAND Corporation’s recent bid protest study.
The disparity isn’t the result of discrimination against small businesses, but rather a product of other factors: primarily, the motivation to protest, the understanding of the protest system, and access to legal counsel. RAND raises an important point, but offers no fair and easy solution. Perhaps, given that protests overall are “exceedingly uncommon,” a solution isn’t needed–but it’s wise to think about whether there are ways to help small businesses become better educated about bid protests.
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.
Only a very small percentage of DoD contracts–0.3 percent, to be precise–are protested, according to a comprehensive and fascinating new report on bid protests issued by the RAND Corporation.
The detailed report, which was prepared at the behest of Congress, concludes that DoD bid protests are “exceedingly uncommon,” and typically aren’t frivolous. RAND’s analysts urge policymakers to carefully consider the data when evaluating whether reforms to the bid protest process are necessary–and to “avoid drawing overall conclusions or assumptions about trends from one case when it comes to the efficacy of the bid protest system.”
Amen to that.
Almost a year ago, we wrote of a memorandum from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy urging agencies to strengthen the debriefing process. OFPP’s rationale was simple: because effective debriefings tend to reduce the number of protests, agencies should be inclined to enhance the debriefing process.
Congress seems to have taken note: the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Department of Defense to make significant improvements to the debriefing process. That said, those improvements are limited to large DoD acquisitions, leaving many small businesses stuck with the much more limited debriefing rights currently available under the FAR.
Debriefings are a fundamental part of many government competitions. So it’s important for government contractors to understand what debriefings are, what they are not, and why they’re important. Here are five things you should know about debriefings:
You’ve submitted a great proposal, but then you get the bad news – you lost. As most seasoned contractors know, an unsuccessful offeror often can ask for a debriefing from the agency and in doing so, hopefully get some valuable insight into its decision-making process. Many also understand that the benefits of asking for a debriefing may include extending the timeline for filing a GAO bid protest.
But not all solicitations are subject to the same debriefing regulations, and depending on how the procurement was conducted, an offeror might not be entitled to that extended deadline–as one company recently learned the hard way in the context of a GSA Schedule procurement.
Debriefings play a vital role in the procurement process. When conducted fully and fairly, a debriefing provides an offeror with valuable insight into the strengths and shortcomings of its proposal, thus enabling the offeror to improve its offering under future solicitations. But when an agency provides only a perfunctory debriefing, the process can be virtually worthless–and may actually encourage an unsuccessful offeror to file a bid protest.
With this in mind, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy recently issued a memorandum that urges agencies to strengthen the debriefing process. In doing so, OFPP has encouraged agencies to adopt a debriefing guide that will help facilitate effective and efficient debriefings.