The questions below are intended for a general audience and are not intended to address all possible issues and situations, and should not be considered legal advice.
What is a bid protest?
- A bid protest is a challenge to the award or proposed award of a contract for procurement of goods and services or a challenge to the terms of a solicitation for such a contract.
What kinds of bid protests can be filed at GAO?
- Protests may be filed against procurement actions by federal government agencies.
What kinds of protests cannot be filed at GAO?
- Protests may not be filed against procurement actions by nonfederal government agencies, such as state, local, or foreign governments, or actions by certain exempted federal agencies, such as the Postal Service. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.5) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.
Who can file a bid protest at GAO?
- Only “interested parties” may file protests. In the case of a solicitation challenge, an interested party is generally a potential bidder for the contract. In the case of a contract award challenge, an interested party is generally an actual bidder that did not win the contract. In addition, other factors, such as the bidder’s standing in the competition and the nature of the issues raised may affect whether it qualifies as an interested party. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(a)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.
When must a protest be filed?
- In general, a protest challenging the terms of a solicitation must be filed before the time for receipt of initial proposals. A protest challenging the award of a contract must be filed within 10 days of when a protester knows or should know of the basis of the protest (a special case applies where, under certain circumstances, the protester receives a required debriefing). Please be aware that the regulations regarding the timely filing of protests depend on the circumstances of each case and are strictly enforced. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.2) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.
How is time calculated for filing deadlines?
- “Days,” under GAO’s regulations, means “calendar days.” In the event a deadline falls on a weekend, federal holiday, or other day when GAO is closed, the deadline is extended to the next business day. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(e)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.
I was awarded a contract and was told that the award has been protested—what must I do, and what am I allowed to do?
- Parties that have been awarded a contract are permitted to participate in a protest as an intervenor. They are not required to do so, however, as it is the agency’s responsibility to respond to the protest.
- Are employee unions or representatives allowed to file protests or participate as intervenors?
- Government employees and their representatives may participate as protesters and intervenors in protests involving competitions conducted under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(a)(2), (b)(2)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.
Do I need an attorney to file a protest or participate as an intervenor?
- No. Parties may file a protest or participate as an intervenor without being represented by an attorney. However, only attorneys are permitted to have access to material subject to a protective order.
What is a protective order?
- A protective order prohibits disclosure of sensitive information during a protest. A protective order may be issued by GAO at the request of a protester and allows attorneys admitted to the order to review sensitive information, such as proposals and agency evaluation documents. Only attorneys who are not engaged in “competitive decision making” for a party are eligible for admission to a protective order. Attorneys admitted to a protective order may not disclose protected information to their clients (the protester or intervenor) and must reach agreement with attorneys for the opposing parties and GAO before protected information is released to the public. The protective order process allows attorneys to argue a protest on behalf of a protester or intervenor, without the disclosure of sensitive information. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.4) and Guide to Protective Orders.
How are GAO protests identified?
- Each protest is assigned a unique six-digit “B-number.” A protest is identified as, for example, “Protester Name, B-123456.” If related protests are filed, the protests are identified as “Protester Name, B-123456.2,” “Protester Name, B-123456.3,” etc.
How do I get more information about a protest that has been filed?
- You may search the GAO bid protest docket by B-number, protester name, agency name, and solicitation number. The docket provides information concerning the filing date, decision deadline, the GAO attorney assigned to the protest, and the current status of the protest. When a decision is publicly available, a link to that decision is included in the docket search results.
How do I contact the GAO attorney assigned to a protest?
- Use this listing of GAO bid protest attorney contact information. Please note that we provide only limited information while a protest is pending.
Can I get a copy of the actual protest, pleadings, or other documents provided by the protestor or the agency?
- The GAO doesn’t release documents while a protest is pending. After a protest is decided, you may request access to information, including redacted protests. You can request this information through the Freedom of Information Act process.
What happens after a protest has been filed?
- If the protest is not dismissed for procedural reasons, the agency must, within 30 days of the filing of a protest, provide a report addressing the protest arguments. The protester must file comments responding to the agency report within 10 days of receiving the report (failure to file comments will result in dismissal of the protest). After the comment period, GAO may request additional filings from the parties, conduct alternative dispute resolution, or hold a hearing. For more information, see the GAO Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.3) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide, and this timeline of a bid protest.
What is “corrective action”?
- Corrective action is an agency’s voluntary decision to address an issue in response to a protest. Corrective action can occur at any time during a protest. An agency’s corrective action may involve a re-evaluation of proposals, a new award decision, an amendment to a solicitation, or other actions. The GAO will typically dismiss a protest if an agency takes corrective action that resolves protest arguments or provides the relief sought by the protester.
What are the possible outcomes for a GAO protest?
- A protest is concluded when it is
- “withdrawn” by the protester,
- “dismissed” by GAO because the protest had a technical or procedural flaw (such as lack of timeliness or jurisdiction) or because the agency takes corrective action that addresses the protest,
- “denied” by GAO because they found no merit to the protest, or
- “sustained” by GAO because they agree with the protest arguments.
What happens when GAO sustains a protest?
- If the GAO agrees with a protester that the agency violated a procurement law or regulation in a prejudicial manner, they will issue a decision sustaining the protest and recommend that the agency address the violation through appropriate corrective action. The agency must then advise the GAO whether it will comply with the recommendation.
How long does GAO take to decide a protest?
- The GAO must decide a protest within 100 calendar days.
What percentage of GAO decisions are dismissed, denied, and sustained?
- They provide an annual report to Congress regarding the numbers of protests filed and the results of those protests. See the GAO Bid Protest Annual Reports.
Does GAO make its decisions publicly available?
- It depends on what the decision was:
- They make public decisions that deny or sustain a protest and dismissals that address a significant issue.
- They do not make public routine dismissals of protests.
How quickly are bid protest decisions released?
- Decisions are generally released to the public shortly after the bid protest parties are informed, unless the decision needs redacting.
What is redacting? How long does it take?
- When a decision contains protected information, a decision may not be released to the public immediately due to the need to prepare a “redacted” version, which omits protected information. A redacted version is generally available 2 to 3 weeks after bid protest parties are informed.
When does GAO make its protest decisions publicly available?
- It depends on whether the decision is subject to a protective order or not:
- If a decision is not subject to a protective order, it will usually be available on the GAO Web site within 2 days.
- If a decision is subject to a protective order, the parties must agree to the release of a public version that redacts proprietary or source-selection-sensitive information. The preparation of a public version of a protected decision may take between a few days and a few weeks; however, occasionally, a decision may not be made public for months if other events, such as corrective action, would be affected by the release of the decision.
What kinds of redactions does GAO make to a decision?
- They seek to issue decisions that provide meaningful and transparent explanations for their rulings. Even if a protective order is issued for a protest, information in the public version of a protected decision will be redacted only where it is proprietary or is source-selection-sensitive. For example, evaluation point scores and adjectival ratings, unfavorable or adverse past performance information, and total cost or price generally will not be redacted from a decision.
Where can I find a protest decision?
- You can browse recent decisions.
Search for new or older decisions.
You can also find decisions through outside commercial services such as Westlaw and Lexis.
I know a protest has been decided, why I can’t find the decision?
- It depends on what the outcome was:
- If a protest is dismissed, they will not make the decision publicly available, unless it addresses a significant issue.
- If a protest is sustained or denied, you should find the decision on the GAO Web site within 2 days after the decision date. If you don’t find it, then they may be preparing a redacted version which will be made public when available.
What does the date on a decision mean?
- The date is when the decision was finalized and the protesters were informed. It may be earlier than the date the decision is made publicly available.
How can I keep up-to-date on new protest decisions?