“We Don’t Do Option Year Challenges,” Says GAO

Most federal contracts are structured with a base period with a number of option periods that can be exercised at the agency’s discretion. But what happens if an option year goes unexercised? Recently, a disappointed contractor attempted to challenge the agency’s decision not to exercise an option before GAO. Unfortunately, GAO was not receptive.

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Exercised Options May Be Protested At GAO–But Agency Discretion Is Broad

Contrary to a common misconception, GAO has jurisdiction to consider a protester’s challenge to the exercise of an option in a competitor’s contract. But GAO’s review is largely deferential to the agency: it will uphold the exercise of an option unless a protester is able to show the agency failed to follow applicable regulations or otherwise should have conducted a new procurement.

A recent bid protest illustrates this deferential review, as GAO denied a protest challenging the exercise of an option where the agency considered pricing and other factors before exercising its option.

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GAO: Rule Of Two Analysis Not Required For Exercise Of “In Scope” Options

The Small Business Act envisions that small businesses will be awarded a “fair proportion” of government contracts. To meet this goal, the FAR instructs agencies to set aside for small businesses acquisitions over $150,000 if there is a reasonable expectation that offers will be received from at least two responsible small businesses, at fair market prices.

While the Rule of Two is powerful, it does not extend to all procurement actions. A recent GAO case illustrates an important exception to the Rule of Two. In Walker Development & Trading Group—Reconsideration, B-411246.2 (Sept. 14, 2015), the GAO held that an agency need not conduct a Rule of Two analysis before exercising an option in accordance with the terms of an existing contract.

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Court: “Long Term” Contract Did Not Guarantee Option Years

The government was not required to exercise option years in a “long term” contract to lease aircraft, according to a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In Sundowner 102 LLC v. United States, No. 12-304C (2013), the Court held that the use of the words “long term” in a contract did not limit the government’s discretion to decline to exercise option years.

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