Bid protests are an important part of the federal government’s procurement system. Why? Because sometimes agencies really get the evaluation wrong. They read non-existent requirements into the solicitation; give credit where none is due; and adjust an offeror’s price without forewarning.
Thankfully, in those cases, we have GAO to make course corrections.
Supposedly, the general rule is that a protester is reimbursed the costs associated with a successful protest—including attorneys’ fees. But, as a recent case shows, that’s often not the case.
In a March decision, GAO recommended award of only a portion of fees associated with bringing a protest, even though GAO agreed that the protest was correct and the awardee should have been found technically unacceptable.
It is decently well-established that GAO will recommend protesters be reimbursed for protest related costs when an agency unduly delays in taking prompt corrective action. In a recent GAO decision, however, the Navy argued the question of undue delay should be evaluated from the time the Navy fully understood the extent of its error, not the initiation of the protest.
GAO was not convinced.
The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act put a new twist on potential costs a contractor may incur in filing a GAO bid protest.
While many federal contractors are familiar with the costs arising from a GAO protest, including their attorneys’ fees and consultant and expert witness fees, and some are lucky enough to recoup such costs upon GAO’s sustainment of a protest, under the 2018 NDAA, some large DoD contractors may also be required to reimburse DoD for costs incurred in defending protests denied by GAO.
As a government contracts attorney, there is nothing I enjoy more than winning a victory on behalf of a client–then having the government pick up the tab. It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. The general rule in the United States is that everyone pays his or her own attorneys’ fees. But a recent GAO decision highlights the fact that, under the right circumstances, a successful GAO protester is entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees.