Magazine article National Defense

Contractors Face Changes to Bid Protest Strategies

Magazine article National Defense

Contractors Face Changes to Bid Protest Strategies

Article excerpt

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018 includes some significant changes affecting contractors, particularly with regard to challenges to requests for proposals and contract awards, otherwise known as "bid protests."

The key bid protest changes in the new NDAA are: the introduction of a new pilot program under which large defense contractors will be required to pay the Defense Department's costs where a protest is denied; and the enhancement of post-award debriefing rights.

While Congress passed the former with the intent of reducing frivolous protests, it is likely the latter--which will give contractors greater insight into the rationale behind procurement decisions--that will have a greater impact on the number of protests filed.

Section 827 of the act requires that the department establish and implement a three-year pilot program under which "large" defense contractors will be required to reimburse the department for "costs incurred in processing covered protests" for protests "denied in an opinion" by the Government Accountability Office.

A large contractor is defined as one with revenues in excess of $250 million, and the pilot program will apply to protests filed at the GAO between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2022.

By limiting the scope of this loser-pays provision to those protests that are "denied in an opinion" by the GAO, this reimbursement provision will potentially only apply to a small number of protests. A recent study by the RAND Corp. examined defense protests at the GAO from fiscal years 2008 through 2016. This study found that less than 0.3 percent of such procurements are protested at the GAO, and that small business protests make up more than half of those.

While a protest sustain rate of 2.6 percent for fiscal years 2008 through 2016, or approximately 300 out of 11,459 protests, appears to suggest there is a great number of frivolous protests, deeper analysis of GAO's statistics shows that is simply not the case. Approximately 21 percent of the bid protests filed were resolved by a decision on the merits. Of those 2,429 defense protests that reached the merits, nearly 300 were sustained. In other words, only 2,133, or approximately 20 percent of all the protests filed over eight years, were denied in an opinion.

With regard to the 79 percent of protests resolved without an opinion, a significant number--approximately 40 percent--were dismissed as a result of the government voluntarily correcting procurement errors noted in a bid protest. In addition, a number of protests were voluntarily withdrawn after protestor's counsel had the opportunity to review the confidential record underlying the agency's procurement decision.

In other words, this legislation will impact a relatively small number of protests. The 2,133 Defense Department bid protests denied in an opinion over an eight-year period equates to approximately 267 per year. Of those protests, the reimbursement provision will only affect protests filed by large contractors. If the percentage of protests filed by small businesses--over half--holds, even if adjusted to account for the lower effective rate of protests filed by small businesses reported by RAND, that number is likely under 200.

While this provision will impact a relatively small number of protests, the financial impact for those few may be significant. Congress did not define or elaborate on what costs are considered "incurred in processing covered protests" or how those costs will be quantified. Considering the amount of time legal and contract administration staff spend working on bid protests, these costs could easily exceed six figures.

But until the department issues guidance on how this provision will be implemented, it will be difficult for large defense contractors subject to this provision to evaluate the risks involved in filing a bid protest at GAO.

Finally, it is unclear how contractors will be determined to meet the large contractor threshold outlined in the new NDAA. …

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