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GAO Bid Protest

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has provided an objective forum for the resolution of disputes concerning the awards of federal contracts. Filing a bid protest with GAO can usually be resolved more quickly than by court litigation and more objectively than by filing with the agency.

The GAO bid protect begins with the filing of a written protest. Unless the protest is dismissed because it is procedurally or substantively defective (e.g., the protest is untimely or the protest fails to clearly state legally sufficient grounds of protest), the contracting agency is required to file with GAO an agency report responding to the protest and to provide a copy of that report to the protester. The protester then has an opportunity to file written comments on the report. Other parties may be permitted to intervene, which means that they will also receive a copy of the report and will be allowed to file written comments on the report.

During the course of a GAO protest, as appropriate, GAO may schedule status or other informal types of conferences to resolve procedural matters and to obtain information material to the disposition of the protest. GAO also may find that a hearing is necessary to resolve factual and legal issues raised in the protest. If it decides to hold a hearing, GAO will usually conduct a pre-hearing conference to decide the issues that will be considered at the hearing, to identify the witnesses who will testify at the hearing, and to settle procedural questions. After the hearing, all parties will be allowed to submit written comments on the hearing.

After the record is complete, GAO will consider the facts and legal issues raised and will issue a decision, a copy of which will be sent to all parties participating in the protest. GAO may sustain the protest (that is, find that the agency violated a procurement statute or regulation and that the violation prejudiced the protester), in which case GAO will recommend appropriate corrective action. Alternatively, GAO may deny the protest or may dismiss the protest without reviewing the matter. GAO will issue its decision not later than 100 days from the date the protest was filed. The exact date on which GAO issues the decision depends on the urgency of the procurement, the complexity of the factual and legal issues raised in the protest, and GAO’s work load.

FILING A PROTEST

WHO MAY PROTEST

By law, a GAO protest must be filed by an “interested party,” which means an actual or prospective bidder or offeror with a direct economic interest in the procurement. 4 C.F.R. § 21.0(a). In challenges of the evaluation of proposals and the award of contracts, this generally means an offeror that would potentially be in line for award if the protest were sustained.

Although many parties retain an attorney in order to benefit from the attorney’s familiarity with GAO’s bid protest process and with procurement statutes and regulations, an attorney is not required for purposes of filing a protest. However, where the record includes another company’s proprietary information or the agency’s source-selection-sensitive information, only attorneys (and then only if the attorneys are admitted under a protective order, as discussed below) will be allowed to see that information.

WHAT TO PROTEST

Although most protests challenge the acceptance or rejection of a bid or proposal and the award or proposed award of a contract, GAO considers protests of defective solicitations (e.g., allegedly restrictive specifications, omission of a required provision, and ambiguous or indefinite evaluation factors), as well as certain other procurement actions (e.g., the cancellation of a solicitation). The termination of a contract may be protested if the protest alleges that the termination was based on improprieties in the award of the contract. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(a). Where the agency involved has agreed in writing, GAO will consider protests concerning (1) awards of subcontracts by or for a federal agency, (2) sales by a federal agency, and (3) procurement actions by government entities which do not fall within the strict definition of federal agencies in 4 C.F.R. § 21.0(c). 4 C.F.R. § 21.13(a).

There are some matters that cannot be protested to GAO. The most common grounds for dismissal of a protest in whole or in part are set forth in 4 C.F.R. § 21.5.

PREPARATION OF A PROTEST

There is no prescribed form for filing a protest, except that the protest must be in writing. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(b). Protests of different procurements must be separately filed. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(f).

GAO does not require formal briefs or other technical forms of pleadings. However, at a minimum, a protest shall:

(1) Include the name, address, and telephone and facsimile (fax) numbers of the protester (or its representative, if any);

(2) Be signed by the protester or its representative;

(3) Identify the contracting agency and the solicitation and/or contract number;

(4) Set forth a detailed statement of the legal and factual grounds of protest, including copies of relevant documents;

(5) Set forth all information establishing that the protester is an interested party for the purpose of filing a protest;

(6) Set forth all information establishing the timeliness of the protest;

(7) Specifically request a ruling by the Comptroller General of the United States; and

(8) State the form of relief requested. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(c).

In addition, a protest may include a request for a protective order, specific documents relevant to the protest, and a hearing. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(d). In this regard, protesters must explain the relevancy of requested documents to their protest grounds and the reason a hearing is necessary to resolve the protest. Id.

The protest document must be clearly labeled if it contains information which the protester believes is proprietary, confidential, or otherwise not releasable to the public. In those cases, within 1 day after the filing of the unredacted protest with GAO, the protester must provide to GAO and the contracting agency a redacted version of the protest which omits such information. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(g).

A party may request that GAO decide a protest using an express option schedule or other flexible alternative procedures, including establishing an accelerated schedule and/or issuing a summary decision. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(a), (e).

WHEN TO PROTEST

The regulations set forth the timeliness requirements for filing protests at GAO. 4 C.F.R. § 21.2. Because bid protests may delay the procurement of needed goods and services, GAO, except under limited circumstances, strictly enforces these timeliness requirements.

Protests alleging improprieties in a solicitation must be filed prior to bid opening or the time set for receipt of initial proposals if the improprieties were apparent prior to that time. 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(1). A solicitation defect that was not apparent before that time must be protested not later than 10 days after the defect became apparent. In negotiated procurements, if an alleged impropriety did not exist in the initial solicitation but was later incorporated into the solicitation by an amendment, a protest based on that impropriety must be filed before the next closing time established for submitting proposals. Id.

In all other cases, protests must be filed not later than 10 days after the protester knew or should have known the basis of protest (whichever is earlier), with the exception of protests challenging a procurement conducted on the basis of competitive proposals under which a debriefing is “requested and, when requested, is required” (that is, a statutorily required debriefing). In these cases, with respect to any protest basis which was known or should have been known before the statutorily required debriefing, the protester must not file its initial protest before the debriefing date offered to the protester, but must file its initial protest not later than 10 days after the date on which the debriefing was held. 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(2).

The purpose of the exception to the timeliness rules for negotiated procurements is to encourage vendors to seek, and contracting agencies to give, early and meaningful debriefings prior to the vendor deciding whether or not to file a protest. Thus, in procurements conducted on the basis of competitive proposals in which a statutorily required debriefing is held, that is, where a debriefing is requested and, when requested, is required, a protester will always have up to 10 days after the debriefing to file its initial protest.

Special timeliness rules govern protests initially filed with the contracting agency. In those cases, the protest to GAO must be filed not later than 10 days after the protester learned of “initial adverse agency action.” 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(3). Deciding when adverse agency action occurs is straightforward when the protester receives oral or written notice that the agency is denying the agency-level protest. Protesters should keep in mind, however, that GAO views any action that makes clear that the agency is denying the agency-level protest as adverse agency action. Examples of adverse agency action include the agency’s proceeding with bid opening or the receipt of proposals, the rejection of a bid or proposal, or the award of a contract despite the agency-level protest. Firms which have filed an agency-level protest and are considering filing a subsequent protest with GAO should be alert to any possible agency action that could be viewed as indicating that the agency is denying the agency-level protest.

Agency-level protests must be filed in accordance with GAO’s timeliness rules at 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(1) and (a)(2), unless the agency imposes a more stringent time for filing, in which case the agency’s time for filing will control. Thus, even if a firm files a protest with GAO within 10 days of initial adverse agency action, GAO will consider the protest untimely if the agency-level protest was not timely filed under GAO’s timeliness rules or under an agency’s rules if those rules are stricter. 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(3). For example, if a firm waits until after bid opening to file an agency-level protest of an apparent solicitation impropriety, even if the subsequent protest to GAO is filed within 10 days of the firm’s learning that the agency has denied the agency-level protest, GAO will not consider a protest of that impropriety since the agency-level protest of the alleged impropriety was not filed prior to bid opening.

GAO may consider an untimely protest where exceptional circumstances beyond the protester’s control caused the delay in filing the protest, or where the protest presents novel or significant issues of interest to the procurement community. 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(c). Protesters should be aware, however, that GAO will invoke these exceptions sparingly.

WHERE TO SEND A PROTEST

Protests must be addressed to the General Counsel, General Accounting Office, 441 G St., N.W., Washington, DC 20548, Attention: Procurement Law Control Group. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(b). GAO’s office hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

Protests may be filed by hand delivery, mail, commercial carrier, or fax. 4 C.F.R. § 21.0(g). Protests filed by hand delivery or commercial carrier must be delivered to the window located in the G Street lobby in GAO’s main building at the above-referenced address. Protesters filing their protests by fax should verify GAO’s fax number prior to transmission. GAO’s current official bid protest fax number is (202) 512-9749. Fax users should take into account the risk that GAO’s receiving fax machine might be busy, particularly near the end of a business day. GAO will time/date stamp a fax transmission as of the time that the last page is received, which may affect the timeliness of the entire submission. Additional recorded information concerning the filing of protests at GAO may be obtained by calling GAO’s Procurement Law Control Group at (202) 512-5282.

A copy of the protest, including all attachments, must be filed with the individual or location identified for that purpose in a solicitation, or with the contracting officer, within 1 day after the protest is filed with GAO. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(e).

INITIAL STEPS AFTER A PROTEST IS FILED

ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A PROTEST

Upon receipt of a protest, GAO generally sends the protester a written notice acknowledging receipt of the protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(a). In appropriate cases, GAO may issue a protective order package, a hearing schedule, and/or a status conference notice simultaneously with the acknowledgment notice. The only instance in which an acknowledgment notice is not sent is where the protest is summarily dismissed, in which case a notice of dismissal will be furnished.

The acknowledgment notice includes important information. First, it provides the file number by which GAO identifies the protest. That number consists of a letter followed by six digits (e.g., B-123456). Second, the notice contains the date on which the contracting agency’s response to the protest, the agency report, is due. The notice warns that GAO will assume that the protester receives the report on that date and may dismiss the protest if the protester’s written comments in response to the report are not received by GAO within 10 days of that date. Third, the notice contains the date by which a written decision will be issued by GAO.

Finally, the acknowledgment notice identifies the GAO attorney or the GAO contact person handling the protest and that individual’s telephone number. That individual is the GAO employee who should generally be contacted with any procedural questions about the protest. Inquiries about the status of the case may be directed to GAO’s bid protest status line at (202) 512-5436. This telephone number and the previously referenced official fax number also appear on the notice.

CONFIRMATION OF REPORT REQUIREMENT

Within 1 day of receipt of the protest, GAO will telephone the contracting agency to advise it that a protest has been filed. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(a). That telephone call is important because it is the official notice that may trigger a statutory stay in the award or of performance of a contract pending GAO’s decision. The call also triggers the agency report requirement. For this reason, protesters should file their protests sufficiently in advance of the expiration of the statutory period after award or after a statutorily required debriefing to allow GAO time to notify the agency that a protest has been filed for purposes of triggering the statutory stay. GAO follows up the telephone notice with a written confirmation of report requirement which includes essentially the same information provided to the protester in the acknowledgment notice.

INTERVENORS

Immediately after receiving notice of the protest from GAO, the contracting agency must give notice of the protest to the contractor if an award has been made or, if no award has been made, the agency must notify all bidders or offerors which have a reasonable chance of receiving an award. GAO may permit other firms to participate in the protest as “intervenors.” 4 C.F.R. § 21.0(b). If the award has been made, GAO permits only the awardee to intervene. If the award has not been made, firms wishing to intervene should so advise GAO and the other parties, and then contact GAO to learn whether they will be permitted to intervene. The notice of intervention can be a brief letter which includes the name, address, and telephone and fax numbers of the intervenor or its representative, if any, and which advises GAO and all other parties of the intervenor’s status.

SUMMARY DISMISSAL

If a protest is summarily dismissed, that is, if GAO dismisses the protest on jurisdictional or procedural grounds, GAO will not review the merits of the protest by requesting an agency report. 4 C.F.R. § 21.5. For example, if the protest is untimely on its face or if it raises issues that GAO does not consider (such as the awardee’s business size status), GAO will dismiss it without requiring the contracting agency to submit a report. GAO may also summarily dismiss individual grounds of protest. For example, if a protest alleges that a solicitation uses overly restrictive technical specifications and uses the incorrect definition of a small business, GAO will dismiss the latter ground (which is for consideration by the Small Business Administration, not GAO), but may request an agency report on the remaining ground.

As a general rule, GAO will dismiss a protest that fails to set forth a detailed statement of the legal and factual grounds of protest or that fails to clearly state legally sufficient grounds of protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.5(f), citing 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(c)(4) and 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(f), respectively.

Once the protest is received, the contracting agency and/or an intervenor may request that GAO summarily dismiss the protest or some of its grounds. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(b). Where summary dismissal may be appropriate, the request for dismissal should be made as soon as practicable after the protest is filed. Id. The request should be in writing and sent to all parties. Unless it is clear that dismissal is appropriate, GAO will generally permit the protester to file a written response to the dismissal request. GAO will promptly address the dismissal request. If GAO grants the request, either in whole or in part, GAO will not require the agency to prepare a report in response to the protest or in response to those grounds of protest which were dismissed.

PROTECTIVE ORDERS

If the record in a protest contains “protected” information, that is, a company’s proprietary or confidential data or the agency’s source-selection-sensitive information, that information cannot be made public. In order to allow limited access to protected information relevant to a protest, GAO may issue a protective order. 4 C.F.R. § 21.4. The protective order strictly controls who has access to protected material and how that material is labeled, distributed, stored, and disposed of at the conclusion of the protest. A protective order package, which includes the protective order and the application(s) for access to material under a protective order, generally will be issued soon after a protest is filed, but in appropriate cases, may be issued simultaneously with the acknowledgment notice.

Only individuals who apply to GAO, and whose applications are approved by GAO, will be permitted access to protected information. Those individuals must be attorneys or consultants retained by attorneys; the attorneys may be outside counsel or in-house counsel. The applicants need to show that they are not involved in competitive decision making for any company that could gain a competitive advantage from access to protected information and that there will be no significant risk of inadvertent disclosure of such information. 4 C.F.R. § 21.4(c). GAO has issued a number of decisions which address matters related to the admission of applicants under a protective order. Individuals permitted access to protected information are not allowed to disclose that information to others. This means, for example, that a protester’s attorney permitted access to protected information under a protective order is prohibited from revealing such information to the client. GAO may impose sanctions on any individual who violates the terms of a protective order. 4 C.F.R. § 21.4(d).

Because the information released under a protective order is not GAO’s, but rather the contracting agency’s or one of the private parties, GAO relies on these parties to carefully review applications for access to material under a protective order (and to call to GAO’s attention any possible violation of a protective order). If no party objects to an individual’s application, GAO will generally admit the applicant under the protective order. It is important that any objections to an individual’s application be promptly raised. By the end of the second day after receiving the application, the objecting party must advise GAO and the other parties that there is an objection to the applicant’s admission. 4 C.F.R. § 21.4(c). The GAO attorney will generally permit the objecting party to submit the specific objection, in writing, the next day. GAO will promptly address any objections. Even after the period for filing an objection has passed, GAO may withhold its ruling on an application (or may revoke an admission) if information comes to light which indicates that the applicant does not meet the criteria for admission.

A sample protective order and sample applications for access to material under a protective order for outside counsel, in-house counsel, and consultants retained by counsel are reproduced in the appendixes to this booklet. These sample documents, which are provided in this booklet for informational purposes only, have recently been revised. More specifically, under paragraph 1 of the protective order, a protective order issued for an initial protest is now automatically extended by the terms of the order to cover all proceedings associated with the initial protest, including supplemental/amended protests, requests for reconsideration, and claims for costs. Under paragraph 7 of the protective order, GAO expressly authorizes a party admitted under a protective order to retain a single copy of a protected decision or letter issued by GAO, subject indefinitely to the terms of the order (except those terms regarding the return or destruction of protected material). Finally, in paragraph 7 of the application for access to material under a protective order for both outside counsel and in-house counsel, GAO requires applicants to disclose those instances within the last 5 years (as opposed to in perpetuity) when they have been denied admission to a protective order, or had admission revoked, or been found to have violated a protective order issued by GAO or by an administrative or judicial tribunal. (No substantive revisions were made to the application for access to material under a protective order for consultant.) The sample documents also reflect minor language revisions and are subject to further change.

Any violation of the terms of a protective order may result in the imposition of such sanctions as GAO deems appropriate, including but not limited to referral of the violation to appropriate bar associations or other disciplinary bodies, and restricting the individual’s practice before GAO. 4 C.F.R. § 21.4(d).

AGENCY REPORT

Within 30 days after an agency receives telephonic notice of a protest from GAO, the agency is required to provide GAO, the protester, and any intervenors a complete written report responding to the protest, including all relevant documents, or portions of documents, and an explanation of the agency’s position. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(c). The report generally includes a statement of the relevant facts (and a best estimate of the contract value) signed by the contracting officer, a memorandum of law explaining the agency’s position in terms of procurement law, and a list and a copy of all relevant documents, or portions of documents, not previously furnished. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(d).

GAO encourages agencies to voluntarily release to the parties documents which are relevant to the protest prior to the filing of the agency report. Documents provided to the parties prior to the filing of the agency report or documents which are otherwise made available to the parties, for example, by allowing the parties to review documents on site at the agency prior to the filing of the report, need not be produced in the copy of the report provided to the parties. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(c).

In addition, so that GAO may resolve any document disputes prior to the filing of the agency report, GAO requires that at least 5 days prior to the filing of the report, in cases in which the protester has requested in its protest or shortly thereafter specific documents material to the disposition of the protest, that the agency prepare a list of those documents, or portions of documents, which it has previously released or intends to produce in its report, and of the documents which it intends to withhold and the reasons for the proposed withholding. Id. The list must be provided to all parties and to GAO. Objections to the scope of the agency’s proposed disclosure or nondisclosure of documents must be filed with GAO and all other parties within 2 days of receiving the list. Id.

The agency may omit documents, or portions of documents, from the copy of the report provided to the parties if the omitted information is protected and a party receiving the report is not represented by counsel admitted under a protective order. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(e). Where the protester is proceeding without counsel admitted under a protective order and documents are withheld, it is important that the agency provide the protester with information sufficient to clearly inform the protester of the agency’s position, so that the protester may comment intelligently on the report.

Occasionally, the agency may be aware of the existence of relevant documents that only the protester possesses. In appropriate cases, the agency may request that the protester produce those documents. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(d). If GAO agrees that the documents are relevant, it may ask the protester to provide a copy of the documents to GAO and the other parties, subject to the terms of any protective order.

ADDITIONAL DOCUMENT REQUESTS

If a protester learns of the existence or relevance of additional documents that it believes GAO needs to consider in deciding the protest, it may request the production of those documents by filing a supplemental document request. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(g). Typically, this arises where the protester, in reading the agency report, sees references to documents that the agency relies on in support of its position, but has not produced. A protester seeking the production of additional documents should submit a written request for those documents to GAO and the other parties within 2 days after the existence or relevance of the documents is known or should have been known, whichever is earlier. Id. The agency should respond to the request not later than 2 days after receiving the request by either producing the documents, or portions of documents, or explaining why the documents are not being produced. Id.

COMMENTS ON THE AGENCY REPORT

The protester and any intervenors may file written comments on the agency report. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(i). Comments generally are due at GAO within 10 days after receipt of the report. Id. Unless otherwise advised by the protester, GAO will assume that the protester received the report not later than the due date specified in the acknowledgment notice furnished by GAO. Id. A copy of the comments should be furnished to each of the other parties not later than the day after the comments are received at GAO.

If the contracting agency produces withheld documents at the direction of GAO after the report has been submitted, comments will be due within the original 10-day comment filing period, unless GAO extends this period. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(h).

Failure of the protester to file comments, to request in writing that the case be decided on the existing written record, or to request an extension of time within the 10-day period will result in dismissal of the protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.3(i).

EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS

Parties should not attempt to engage in ex parte communications with the GAO attorney assigned to the protest, or with any other GAO employee. An ex parte communication refers to any oral or written communication with a GAO official, which excludes one or more parties to a protest, about the merits of the protest, or about significant issues which might affect the outcome of the protest. Although it may be necessary during the proceedings to clarify a fact in the record or to explain in greater detail a party’s position in the case, GAO will not entertain, and no one may submit to GAO, off the record, any evidence, explanation, analysis, or advice, whether written or oral, regarding any substantive matter affecting the disposition of the protest. Where it is necessary to discuss any substantive issue with GAO, a telephone conference should be requested. A copy of all written submissions to GAO, redacted where necessary, should be provided to all parties to the protest.

HEARINGS

At the request of a party or on its own initiative, GAO may conduct a hearing in person or by telephone where it concludes that the protest cannot otherwise be resolved on the written record alone. 4 C.F.R. § 21.7(a), (c).

Because hearings increase the costs and burdens of protests, GAO holds hearings only when necessary. A request for a hearing should explain why a hearing is necessary to resolve the protest, and point out, for example, factual and legal questions that GAO must consider in order to decide the protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.1(d)(3), 21.7(a). GAO has issued a number of decisions which discuss reasons for holding hearings. While the regulations do not establish a deadline for requesting a hearing, such a request should be submitted as early as possible in the protest process in order to avoid unnecessary delays and disruptions. Parties should also be aware that GAO may identify shortly after a protest is filed whether the case is one in which a hearing appears likely to be appropriate. On the other hand, the appropriateness of a hearing often is not clear until after the contracting agency has filed its report and, in many cases, is not clear until after the protester has submitted its comments on the report. GAO may decide at these later times that a hearing is necessary to resolve the protest.

In cases where GAO decides to hold a hearing, it will generally conduct a pre-hearing conference with all parties. 4 C.F.R. § 21.7(b). The purpose of that conference is to review the scope of the hearing, to identify the appropriate witnesses and their availability, to establish the date and location of the hearing, and to discuss other logistical matters. In cases where GAO determines that only some of the protest issues require a hearing, it will generally limit the hearing to those issues. The GAO attorney handling the protest will conduct both the pre-hearing conference and the hearing. The format of hearings varies from formal (direct- and cross-examination of witnesses conducted by counsel for the parties) to informal (a discussion of the issues by counsel and others). For this reason, the pre-hearing conference is usually the best opportunity to clarify how the GAO attorney expects to conduct the hearing, as well as to raise any other questions about the hearing.

A GAO hearing is, in principle, open to the public. In practice, however, protest hearings often involve protected information. As a result, most hearings are closed except to agency personnel and those individuals admitted under the protective order. 4 C.F.R. § 21.7(d).

At least 1 day prior to the hearing, parties must advise GAO of those individuals expected to attend the hearing so that these individuals may gain access to the GAO building where the hearing room is located.

The GAO hearing room is equipped with video cameras and microphones which automatically record the proceedings. That system produces a video transcript, a copy of which is provided to the parties at no charge at the conclusion of the hearing. In addition, parties may wish to have a court reporter attend the hearing to prepare a written transcript. A request to that effect should be presented before the day of the hearing to the GAO attorney handling the protest. Such a request will usually be granted as long as all parties have access to a written transcript.

If a hearing is held, all parties, including the agency, will be permitted to file written comments on the hearing. 4 C.F.R. § 21.7(g). Those comments are due 5 days after the hearing ends, unless GAO sets a different date. Id. If GAO decides to hold a hearing before the receipt of comments on the agency report, GAO may direct the private parties not to submit separate comments on the report, but to consolidate their views on the report with their comments on the hearing. Id.

DECISION TIMETABLE

Once the record is complete, GAO will consider the protest and decide the case through a written decision issued by the Comptroller General. At the latest, the decision will be issued 100 days after the protest is filed, unless GAO decides the case under the 65-day express option schedule. 4 C.F.R. § 21.9(a), (b). If a protester has filed a timely supplemental or a timely amended protest, GAO will endeavor to resolve the supplemental/amended protest within the 100-day time frame for a decision on the initial protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.9(c). If that is not feasible, GAO may consider using the express option schedule or other accelerated schedule for the resolution of the supplemental/amended protest. Id.; 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(e).

EXPRESS OPTIONS

GAO may decide at the request of a party or on its own initiative that a protest can be resolved under an expedited schedule, referred to as the “express option.” 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(a). A party requesting that GAO decide the case on this basis should submit a written request to that effect not later than 5 days after the protest is filed. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(c).

Under the express option schedule, the agency report is due within 20 days after the contracting agency receives notice from GAO that the express option will be used. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(d)(1). Comments on the report generally are due within 5 days after receipt of the report. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(d)(2). If a hearing is needed, GAO generally will not request separate comments on the agency report; rather, GAO will require that consolidated comments on the report and hearing be filed within 5 days after the hearing ends, unless GAO sets a different date. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(d)(3). Under the express option schedule, GAO’s decision will be issued not later than 65 days after the protest is filed. 4 C.F.R.§ 21.9(b), 21.10(b). GAO may decide at any time that the express option schedule is no longer appropriate, and may set a different schedule for the protest, which will not exceed the time frame (100 days) for deciding a non-express option case.

FLEXIBLE ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURES

Notwithstanding any other provision in these regulations, at the request of a party or on its own initiative, GAO may use flexible alternative procedures, including, for example, establishing an accelerated schedule and/or issuing a summary decision, to resolve any protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(e). This provision is intended to provide a flexible, accelerated protest resolution procedure at GAO which will minimize disruptions to the procurement cycle. In addition, GAO is receptive to using alternative dispute resolution-type procedures either before a protest is filed or during the pendency of a protest to resolve appropriate matters.

STATUS AND OTHER TYPES OF INFORMAL CONFERENCES

To facilitate the expeditious development and resolution of a protest, GAO will conduct status and other types of informal conferences, by telephone or in person, with all parties participating in a protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.10(f). Such conferences may be held at any time during the bid protest process and will be tailored to the circumstances of a particular case. For example, status and other types of informal conferences are beneficial for resolving protective order admission objections, document disputes, and summary dismissal requests; for discussing issues related to hearings; and for obtaining answers to questions which are relevant and material to the disposition of a protest.

PROTEST DISPOSITION

GAO will either dismiss, deny, or sustain a protest. GAO generally sustains protests where it determines that the contracting agency violated procurement statutes or regulations, unless it concludes that the violation did not prejudice the protester. Where a protest is sustained, GAO will recommend appropriate corrective action. In fashioning its recommendation, GAO will take into consideration the circumstances of the procurement, such as the agency’s stated need for the goods or services at issue, the extent performance has been completed (in post-award protests where performance has not been stayed), and similar factors. In appropriate circumstances, GAO will recommend termination of an improper award or, where this is not feasible, that the agency not exercise any renewal options in the improperly awarded contract. 4 C.F.R. § 21.8(a), (b).

If the protest is sustained, GAO will recommend that the protester be reimbursed for the costs of filing and pursuing the protest, including attorneys’ fees and consultant and expert witness fees. Occasionally, where there is no other relief available, GAO will recommend that the protester also be reimbursed for the costs of preparing its bid or proposal. 4 C.F.R. § 21.8(d).

Where GAO has recommended reimbursement of costs, the protester must submit a detailed claim for costs, certifying the time expended and costs incurred in pursuing the protest, directly to the contracting agency within 60 days after receipt of GAO’s recommendation that the agency pay these costs. 4 C.F.R. § 21.8(f)(1). A claim must be supported by adequate documentation. GAO expects the protester and the agency to determine the exact amount to be paid. If the protester and the agency cannot agree, GAO may, upon request of the protester, decide the matter. 4 C.F.R. § 21.8(f)(2). Protesters should keep in mind that, except in very limited circumstances, the costs for attorneys’ fees may not exceed $150 per hour. GAO never recommends that agencies pay lost profits or other common-law damages.

When GAO recommends corrective action, the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 requires the agencies affected to report to the Comptroller General whenever they have not fully implemented the recommendation within 60 days. The Comptroller General, in turn, annually reports to the Congress each instance where recommendations were not fully implemented.

JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS

A protester must immediately advise GAO of any court proceeding which involves the subject matter of a pending protest and must file with GAO copies of all relevant court documents. 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(a). GAO will not consider a protest where the matter involved is the subject of litigation in court. 4 C.F.R. § 21.11(b). For example, if a party files a protest with GAO concerning the award of a contract, and thereafter files a complaint in court also challenging the award, GAO will dismiss the protest. However, at the request of the court, GAO may review the protest and issue an advisory opinion or a decision for the court’s consideration. Id. In such a case, the time frames for filing the agency report, filing comments on the report, conducting a hearing and filing comments, and issuing a decision may be modified to respond promptly to the court’s request. Id.

GAO also will not review a protest where the issues involved have already been decided on the merits by a court. Id.

REQUESTS FOR RECONSIDERATION

Any party who participated in the protest, including the protester, any intervenor, and the contracting agency, may request that GAO reconsider its decision in the protest. 4 C.F.R. § 21.14(a). A request for reconsideration does not result in the withholding of award or the suspension of contract performance. 4 C.F.R. § 21.14(c).

GAO must receive the request for reconsideration within 10 days after the basis of reconsideration is known or should have been known, whichever is earlier. 4 C.F.R. § 21.14(b). The request must identify the alleged factual and/or legal errors in the decision. 4 C.F.R. § 21.14(a). GAO will not consider a request which merely repeats the party’s views already expressed in the protest; a request which simply expresses disagreement with the decision; or a request which provides information or raises an argument that could have been, but was not, provided or raised during the protest.

Last Modified: December 5th, 2009