GAO’s Task Order Protest Jurisdiction Ends September 30, 2016

After September 30, 2016, unsuccessful offerors will lose the ability to challenge some task order awards issued by civilian agencies.

With the House of Representatives and Senate at odds over the extent to which task orders should be subject to bid protests in the first place, it’s unclear whether that protest right will be restored.

Under the Competition in Contracting Act, a protest challenging a task order award issued by a civilian agency is not permitted unless it falls under either of the following exceptions:

(A) the protest alleges that the order increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract under which the order was issued; or

(B) the protest challenges an order valued in excess of $10 million.

41 U.S.C. § 4106(f)(1).

The statute, however, provides that the second exception—allowing protests challenging orders valued at greater than $10 million—expires on September 30, 2016. After that date, an offeror’s ability to protest a task order issued by a civilian agency will be limited to only those protests alleging that the order increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the underlying contract.

It is important to note that this expiration applies only to task orders issued by civilian agencies; offerors can still challenge task orders issued by the Department of Defense, so long as the awards meet the same $10 million minimum. See 10 U.S.C. § 2304c(3)(1).

Congress has started discussing how to address this issue. But the House and Senate remain worlds apart: the House proposes to allow civilian task order protests again, while the Senate wants to do away with task and delivery protests at GAO altogether and instead require the task and delivery order ombudsman to resolve any complaints. H.R. Rep. No. 114-537, § 1862 (p. 348)S. 2943, 114th Cong. § 819.

In fiscal year 2015 (the last year for which statistics are available), GAO closed 2,647 cases; only 335 of them arose from GAO’s special task order jurisdiction. And as we have reported, 45% of protests resulted in a favorable outcome for the protester, either through a formal “sustain” decision or by way of voluntary corrective action. It would be unfortunate to permanently eliminate GAO’s ability to decide protests regarding larger task orders when the statistics indicate that such protests aren’t pervasive and are often meritorious.

So what’s the bottom line? Unless Congress acts, unsuccessful offerors in civilian task order competitions will be able to protest only in very limited circumstances; these offerors must instead bring their complaints before the agency’s task order ombudsman. In the meantime, affected offerors might consider discussing the issue with their elected representatives.