2017 NDAA Requires Report On Bid Protest Impact At DoD

We’ve been covering many of the important changes to federal contracting promised as a result of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. But among the most consequential might be a provision that requires DoD to compile a report that analyzes the impacts of the current bid protest system on DoD acquistions. This report could ultimately form the basis for potential significant changes to the protest system in future years.

As it was originally working through Congress, some versions of the 2017 NDAA included significant revisions to the bid protest system. Among these revisions were attempts to limit protests filed by incumbent contractors. But rather than adopting these significant changes now, Congress has taken a more measured approach: it is instead requiring DoD to study the bid protest system to determine its efficacy going forward.

Section 885 of the 2017 NDAA requires DoD to contract with a not-for-profit entity or a federally funded research and development center “to carry out a comprehensive study on the prevalence and impact of bid protests on Department of Defense acquisitions, including protests filed with contracting agencies, the Government Accountability Office, and the Court of Federal Claims.” This report, moreover, is to be detailed—the 2017 NDAA includes fourteen elements that must be included, ranging from DoD’s perceptions of the bid protest system and its effects on the structure of solicitations, to impacts on a potential offeror’s thought processes when it comes to bidding on a solicitation.

Rather than transcribing all fourteen elements in detail (they’re available here, just search for “Sec. 885”), this post will briefly discuss two of note.

First, the report must analyze bid protests filed by incumbent contractors, to include “the rate at which such protesters are awarded bridge contracts or contract extensions over the period that the protest remains unresolved,” and an assessment on the cost and schedule of acquisitions caused by protests filed by incumbent contractors. Congress apparently is concerned that incumbent contractors may be filing protests as a means to obtain extensions on their performance and, in doing so, needlessly delaying the acquisition process. Much like early versions of the 2017 NDAA, this provision clearly hints that limitations on protests by incumbent contractors may be coming in the near future.

Second, the report must address “the effect of the quantity and quality of debriefings on the frequency of bid protests.” This provision makes sense. In an effort to avoid providing unsuccessful offerors with ammunition for protests, agencies can sometimes limit the information disclosed in an unsuccessful offeror’s debriefing so as to make the debriefing itself almost useless. But this can backfire: in response, frustrated offerors can resort to the protest process primarily as a means to learn more about the evaluation. By more thoroughly explaining their evaluations in debriefings, agencies might actually limit the number of protests filed. Perhaps this report will spur Congress to augment the requirements for agency debriefings.

The report is due no later than one year within the enactment of the 2017 NDAA. It promises to be a fascinating look at the impact of the bid protest process on DoD procurements. And because DoD is the single largest procuring agency, any recommendations that follow from this report are likely to impact bid protest procedures across every agency.

2017 NDAA: The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 has been approved by both House and Senate, and will likely be signed into law soon. It includes some massive changes as well as some small but nevertheless significant tweaks sure to impact Federal procurements in the coming year. For the next few days, SmallGovCon will delve into the minutia to provide context and analysis so that you don’t have to. Visit smallgovcon.com for the latest on the government contracting provisions of the 2017 NDAA.