Understanding Government Bid Protests

Bidding on a government contract is usually a long undertaking for most vendors – one that costs several hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in time in resources spent researching, evaluating prospects, writing, and finally submitting a proposal. It’s no wonder, therefore, why receiving news of rejection can be heavily disappointing and can often lead to many business owners’ decision to forget government bidding altogether.

Losing a bid is not good reasons to exit the government sector, at least not if you can honestly asses that your business is capable of completing the work required by the awarding agency, can benefit from the additional income, and can make the business case to convince the government that you are right for the job.

With over $500 billion in prime government contracts awarded each year to businesses in the private sector, government contracting can be one of the more reliable sources of generated revenue for private businesses. Government agencies make ideal customers: government customers pay on time and in full, will never default or go back on their contract as long as you deliver the required goods and services and will let you know exactly what it is they require and when they will need it. Because of this, there is no reason vendors should simply acquiesce to a lost bid – especially, when bid decisions can be overturned through a helpful and highly effective process of bid protests.

Protesting bid decisions happens more often than people realize, and what is more surprising is the high rate of successful protests seen recently. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, who oversees bid protests at the federal level, there have been over 2,400 protests with an effectiveness rate of 42% over the last three years. This is very encouraging for private businesses when you consider that there may be several great reasons to pursue a protest when you feel you can provide a convincing argument showing that your business is best fit for the award.

Government Bid Protests: Understanding the Process

At the federal level, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has established regulations to allow vendors the opportunity to protest a bid or award (as well as ways to defend your bid award from a protesting competitor). Processes at the local and state levels can vary, but for the most part follow many of the guidelines put in place by GAO, which include a filing deadline, filling out official forms or documents citing vendor and solicitation information, as well as a detailed statement of the legal and factual grounds for the protest.

Written protests are reviewed and the evaluating agency informs the protesting vendor – or interested party – of any issues regarding the protest details. This can range from clearing up the grounds upon which a protest is filed, deadlines, or to schedule dates for discussion meetings. Usually, the awarding agency finds it in their best interest to try and resolve issues without having to complete a formal review or protest, so you’ll find that a lot of protests are won (or lost) during the period immediately following a formal filing, since meetings between vendors and contracting officers can usually work through any issues or clear up any misunderstandings that led up to the original decision.

Vendors are encouraged to remain active during this initial review period and provide the awarding agency with as much information as possible. This means, of course, that vendors should use the proper tools to gather and assess as much evidence before filing a protest in the first place. There are several good reasons to file for a protest including: an agency failed to conduct meaningful discussions during the solicitation period, an agency failed to conduct a proper tradeoff, the agency did not apply the evaluation criteria as cited in the solicitation, the agency cited weaknesses or deficiencies about a vendor that don’t exist, or the agency did not treat or evaluate all vendors equally.

When a vendor hears about an award going to a competitor, it’s usually in the vendor’s best interest to take some time to determine if you can present a reasonable argument to protest a decision.

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