Virtually every year, the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO’s) Bid Protest Annual Report includes “flawed technical evaluations” as one of the top five most common grounds for successful protests. Simply stated, this means that if a protest is to be sustained at the GAO, there is a good chance the Government watchdog will find that the agency failed to evaluate the protester’s and/or awardee’s technical proposal in accordance with the solicitation’s disclosed evaluation methodology. It follows, of course, that more complex evaluation schemes (i.e., those with a multiplicity of factors, sub-factors, and weighting systems) carry a commensurately higher level of risk that agency evaluators will get it wrong. The GAO’s recent decision in AT&T Mobility, LLC provides one such example and is a useful case study for contractors.

Continue Reading The Devil Is in the Details: Recent GAO Decision Underscores the Importance of Checking the Agency’s Math

If a company has one or more Organizational Conflicts of Interest (“OCIs”), its ability to compete for (and perform) a government contract in a fair and equitable manner is inherently called into question. In the context of a bid protest, this may be one of the most overlooked but “sharpest” grounds that may be available to a protester. In short, an OCI is an instance where “because of other activities or relationships with other persons [or entities], a person [or entity] is unable or potentially unable to render impartial assistance or advice to the Government, or the person’s objectivity in performing the contract work is or might be otherwise impaired, or a person has an unfair competitive advantage.” FAR 2.101. Understanding the three types of OCIs and the situations in which each typically arises is critical in order for disappointed offerors to execute this riposte in the face of a flawed contract award.

Continue Reading The GAO Sustains Protest Based on Awardee’s Organizational Conflicts of Interest—An Important Lesson for All Contractors

As you may recall, Section 818 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY 2018 NDAA required the US Department of Defense (DoD) to draft regulations to establish comprehensive post-award debriefing rights for disappointed offerors involved in applicable DoD procurements. On March 22, 2018, the DoD responded by issuing a Class Deviation that implemented certain FY 2018 NDAA requirements—i.e., those requirements affording disappointed offerors the opportunity to submit additional written questions to the cognizant DoD agency within two business days of its agency debriefing conducted in accordance with FAR 15.506(d). In such circumstances, the cognizant DoD agency must provide written responses to the questions within five business days after receipt of the questions. Moreover, if a disappointed offeror chooses to submit timely post-debriefing questions, the debriefing does not conclude—and thus the disappointed offeror’s GAO protest “clock” does not begin to run—until the agency provides its written response. On May 20, 2021, the DoD published a Proposed Rule to amend the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement to (1) codify the March 2018 Class Deviation and (2) implement the additional post-award debriefing requirements from the FY 2018 NDAA.

Continue Reading DoD Issues Proposed Rule on Enhanced Post-Award Debriefing Rights

In a time of uncertain federal budgets and an increasingly crowded marketplace, contractors of all sizes are on the lookout for ways to enhance their chances of winning federal business opportunities. Step one in this process is, of course, the identification of the government’s needs—which are typically codified in requests for proposals or quotations. Step two (i.e., the “pursuit” phase) involves the preparation of an offer designed to fulfill the government’s requirements. As most government contractors know all too well, this is an often laborious and expensive process that requires painstaking attention to detail. But what happens when there is, in fact, a real devil lurking in those details? What if the RFP or RFQ simply doesn’t make sense? What if the terms are in conflict with one another? What if the government includes requirements that run afoul of a law or regulation? Enter the pre-award protest exorcism.

Continue Reading Recent GAO Decision Demonstrates the Utility of Pre-Award Protests

Relying upon the cryptic answers provided by a Magic 8-Ball when deciding to file a protest at the United States Court of Federal Claims (COFC) may sound farcical, but a recent decision by a split panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit may render this method commonplace.  In Inserso Corporation v. United States, the Federal Circuit held that the Blue & Gold waiver rule regarding the timeliness of protests against patent solicitation errors barred Inserso’s opportunity to protest the Defense Information Systems Agency’s (DISA’s) allegedly improper disclosure of total evaluated pricing and previously unreleased evaluation methodology during debriefings with certain offerors.  In what can only be described as requiring an offeror to possess preternatural foresight of all potential agency errors in a procurement, the Federal Circuit reasoned that Inserso should have known the type of information it challenged was likely to be disclosed in the debriefings.  In effect, the majority’s decision unmoors the venerable Blue & Gold waiver rule from its narrow application by requiring – remarkably – that contractors protest non-patent, non-solicitation issues before the deadline for receipt of proposals.  Yet the majority’s opinion isn’t the only feature of this decision that should raise contractors’ eyebrows.  As noted below, the full-throated dissent questions, inter alia, the continuing validity of Blue & Gold.

Continue Reading Dear Magic 8-Ball—Should I Protest? Critical Protest Implications Following the Federal Circuit’s Expansion of Blue & Gold’s Waiver Rule in Inserso

The House version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) (passed July 14, 2017) includes key provisions that would radically change the way the Government purchases certain commercial items, and it may result in the extinction of large parts of the Federal Supply Schedules as we know them. Section 801 of the NDAA promotes Government wide use of online commercial marketplaces (“online marketplaces”) such as Amazon, Staples, and Grainger for the acquisition of certain commercial off-the shelf (“COTS”) items, defined as “commercial products” in the proposed legislation. If enacted, the NDAA would be a revolutionary development in the way the Government buys many of its products, allowing agencies to leapfrog over competitive bidding requirements and numerous mandatory clauses now included in Government contracts for commercial items.

Continue Reading House Wants Uncle Sam to Purchase COTS Items From Amazon and Other Online Sellers

Following up on his repeated promises that the government will buy American and hire American, President Trump signed a Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American (the “Order”) on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, directing executive agencies to enhance acquisition preferences for domestic products and labor under federal contracts and federal grants. Federal contractors should note that the Order serves only as a blueprint for the administration’s intentions and imposes no immediate requirements. Those will follow — but in what form and to what degree, we can only guess. Contractors should prepare for those changes and be assured that – with respect to the Order’s impact on supply chains and contractor purchasing systems – the devil will indeed be in the details.

Continue Reading The Buy American–Hire American Executive Order: There Will Be Devils in the Details When Buying American

In the course of responding to a Request for Proposals (“RFP”) or Request for Quotations (“RFQ”), have you ever encountered technical specifications that you regard as unreasonable? Have you ever wondered why the Government included those specifications in the first place and, more generally, whether those specifications are even necessary to fulfill the requirements giving rise to the acquisition? If your company is like most out there, the answer to these questions is a resounding “yes!” What to do next, you ask? A recent case before the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) is instructive.

Continue Reading Recent GAO Decision Gives Ammunition To Protesters Challenging Technical Specifications

As a bid protest lawyer, one of the most frequent questions I hear from companies considering whether to pull the trigger and file a pre- or post-award bid protest is “Can we win?” My response – regardless of the meritorious nature of the protest grounds and the corresponding flaws in the procurement – is necessarily tempered by sobering data that confirms what most seasoned government contractors already know: prevailing in a bid protest is an uphill battle. For example:

Continue Reading Protesters’ Paradise at the GAO? Understanding the Rapid Rise in the GAO’s FY 2016 Bid Protest Sustain Rate

If you’ve recently considered filing a bid protest, you may have found yourself out of luck due to the expiration of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s (“GAO”) statutory jurisdiction to hear certain protests involving task and delivery orders. Since 2008, the GAO has been the exclusive forum for prospective contractors to assert a protest challenging task order solicitations and awards with an anticipated value of $10 million or more, which have historically accounted for approximately 10% of protests filed at the GAO since that time. However, the GAO’s authority to hear protests involving civilian agency task orders – aside from those arguing that the order increases the scope, period, or maximum value of the underlying contract – expired on September 30, 2016, when Congress failed to pass legislation that would have extended the GAO’s task order protest jurisdiction.

Continue Reading Task and Delivery Order Bid Protests Are Back in Business at the GAO