The Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides an independent review of agency contract awards. Thus, for offerors wrongly bypassed for a government contract, a GAO protest can provide an award.
To preserve one’s right to file a GAO protest, strict time periods must be followed. Thus, if a disappointed bidder or offoror is considering a GAO protest, immediate action should be taken.
Time Periods for Protesting
Solicitation Improprieties: If a disappointed bidder wants to challenge improprieties in a solicitation which are apparent prior to bid opening or prior to the time set for receipt of initial proposals, then a protest must be filed prior to bid opening or the time set for receipt of initial proposals.
Award Decisions: Other protests, such as those which challenge the government’s decision to award to another offeror, must be filed not later than 10 days after the basis of protest is known or should have been known (whichever is earlier). However, if the contract procurement is based on competitive proposals under which a debriefing is requested and, when requested, is required, then a different time period is applicable as discussed below:
Debriefings: A debriefing may be required for competitive proposals under either FAR 15.505 or FAR 15.506. For example, an offeror has 3 days to request a debriefing from the date that the offeror receives the notice that a contract award has been made to someone else.
Time Period When Debriefing Is Involved: For procurements conducted on the basis of competitive proposals under which a debriefing is requested and, when requested, is required, the initial protest must be filed not later than 10 days after the date on which the debriefing is held.
Suspension of Contract Performance
Under certain circumstances, the awarded contract will be suspended upon the filing of the GAO protest. To accomplish this, the protester must act quickly.
To suspend contract performance for contracts already awarded, the protest must be filed within 10 days after contract award, or within 5 days after a required debriefing that is required by FAR 15.505 or FAR 15.506. In limited instances, the agency can override the automatic suspension if it meets certain conditions, but for most protests the automatic suspension will remain in effect.
If an offeror is considering a GAO, strict time limits must be followed or otherwise valid protest challenges will be dismissed summarily. Also, if the protest is not filed promptly, contract performance may not be suspended. This means that the other company will be able to continue to perform the contract despite the protest.
For both of these reasons, prompt action is tantamount in GAO protests.