Contractor Delays Reading Solicitation; GAO Denies Proposal Extension

A contractor’s technical problems in accessing a solicitation did not entitle the contractor to an extension to submit its proposal, because the contractor delayed attempting to read the solicitation until nearly three weeks after it was issued.

In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO suggested that the contractor’s failure to try to access the solicitation was unreasonable, and held and that the agency was justified in refusing to extend the proposal due date.

The GAO’s decision in Coyol International Group, B-408982.2 (Jan. 24, 2014) involved a State Department solicitation for security guard services in Nigeria.  The agency first made potential offerors aware of the solicitation with a sources sought notice, which was posted to FedBizOpps on May 14, 2013.

On June 17, the agency posted a pre-solicitation notice on FedBizOpps. The pre-solicitation notice informed prospective offerors that they would need to submit a restricted access request in order to access the solicitation once it was posted.  The pre-solicitation notice also  informed prospective offerors that they would be given approximately 30 days to prepare and submit proposals after the solicitation was issued.

The agency released the solicitation on August 23.  The FedBizOpps notice again stated that access to the solicitation was restricted.  Offerors were given until September 23 to submit proposals.   Mandatory site visits were scheduled for September 3 and 4.

Coyol International Group participated in the site visit.  On September 10, a week after the site visit, Coyol emailed the Contracting Officer asking how to access the solicitation.  The Contracting Officer confirmed the Coyol had been granted permission to access the restricted document.  After obtaining technical assistance from the FedBizOpps staff, Coyol was able to access the solicitation on September 13.

On September 17, Coyol requested a one-week extension to the September 23 closing date.  Three days later, Coyol filed an agency-level protest seeking an extension of at least 21 days.  The agency subsequently denied both the request and the protest, and Coyol filed a bid protest with the GAO.

The GAO wrote that “[a]s a general matter, prospective offerors bear an affirmative duty to make reasonable efforts to timely obtain solicitation materials.”   In addition, “where a protester contends that the agency allowed insufficient time for preparation of proposals, we require a showing that the time allowed was inconsistent with statutory requirements or otherwise unreasonable, or that precluded full and open competition.”

In this case, the GAO wrote, the restricted access procedures “had been clearly announced in the pre-solicitation notice as well as the August 23 solicitation announcement itself.”  The GAO found that “Coyol’s delay in accessing the RFP is primarily attributable to its having waited nearly 3 weeks after the RFP was posted on FedBizOpps to attempt to access it.” The GAO held, “[s]ince Coyol’s alleged inability to submit a proposal by the closing date was due primarily to its own failure to make reasonable efforts to timely obtain a copy of the solicitation, rather than any improper action by the agency, we have no basis to conclude that the agency’s refusal to extend the closing date was improper.”  The GAO denied the protest.

The Coyol International Group decision is a good reminder that it can be important to review a solicitation as soon as possible after it is released. Even in cases where there are no restrictions on accessing the solicitation, a contractor’s ability to challenge a NAICS code definition, asking a clarifying question, or file a pre-award protest may depend on a prompt review of the solicitation.  And of course, legal rights aside, having more time to understand and fully respond to the government’s requirements can’t hurt a contractor’s chances of success.

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