GAO Bid Protests Decrease Slightly In 2013; “Effectiveness Rate” Was 43%

GAO bid protests decreased slightly in Fiscal Year 2013, down 2% from the previous year.  The “effectiveness rate” for protesters–a statistic that includes both formal GAO sustain decisions and voluntary agency corrective actions–was 43%, up slightly from FY 2012.

The GAO’s FY 2013 statistics are included in its January 2 Annual Report to Congress, which also includes a few other bid protest tidbits of note.

In FY 2013, protesters file 2,429 bid protests with the GAO, a slight reduction from 2,475 the year before.   In recent years, GAO protest filings have increased sharply–up 20% in FY 2009 and another 16% in FY 2010, with smaller increases in FY 2011 and FY 2012.  The FY 2013 reduction could be a function of lower government spending, or it could be a sign that after recent increases, protest filings are now leveling off.

Recent rises in GAO bid protests have been accompanied by sky-is-falling rhetoric about the need to reform the bid protest system.  No awardee wants to be on the receiving end of a bid protest, but 2,429 is a minuscule proportion of the government’s contracting actions.  As is the case every year, the vast majority of FY 2013 contracting actions were not protested.

Commentators demanding a reduction in bid protests often point to the GAO’s relatively low sustain rate as “evidence” that many protests are unjustified.  In FY 2013, the GAO sustained 17% of protests, a slight decline from the previous year and in line with recent trends.  Over the past five fiscal years, the sustain rate has hovered between 16% and 19%.

But focusing on the sustain rate misses the larger picture.  In many cases, agencies elect to take voluntary corrective action in response to GAO protests.  The GAO’s “effectiveness rate” statistic, which combines sustain decisions with instances of voluntary corrective action, is a far better indicator of protesters’ success.   In FY 2013, the effectiveness rate was 43%, up 1% from the previous year and consistent with recent trends.

One other statistic from the GAO’s FY 2013 annual report stands out: hearings continue to decline.  In FY 2013, hearings occurred in only 3.36% of GAO bid protests, as compared to 6.17% of cases the year before.  In FY 2009, hearings occurred in 12% of cases, but the percentage has dropped in every subsequent year.  GAO bid protest hearings appear to be becoming rather rare.

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