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GAO's Most Prevalent Reasons for Sustaining Protests--2016 Update



The Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 requires the Government Accountability Office (GA0) to report to the U. S. Congress annually when government agencies fail to fully implement its bid protest recommendations. GAO has posted these reports on its website since fiscal year (FY) 1995. Initially, these reports provided little information but by FY 2004, GAO published its "Bid Protest Statistics" covering FY 2004 through 2001. I have added every one of these reports to the fiscal year numbers at the top of the bid protest statistics.

Beginning in its report for FY 2013, GAO began listing its "most prevalent reasons for sustaining protests" during the FY. This has continued for FY 2014, FY 2015, and FY 2016. Although the information provided does not include cases where an agency took corrective action before a formal sustained decision was reached, it does provided information on 366 sustained decisions. In that sense, it may provide some help whether you are trying to prevent a protest or whether you may protest a procurement.

For FY 2016, there were 139 sustained protests compared to the 227 protests for the previous 3 Fiscal Years. Since GAO does not provide the number of sustained protests by most prevalent causes, I have ranked the most prevalent causes considering the number of sustained protests during a year.  For example, I divided the number of protests in each of FY 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013 by 1.  That resulted in the following factors:

  • FY 2016 (139/100=1.39)
  • FY 2015 (68/100=.68)
  • FY 2014 (72/100=.72)
  • FY 2013 (82/100=.82)

I then multiplied each factor by each most prevalent reason in each Fiscal Year using GAO's ranking.  Then I added my raw rankings of individual reasons for each Fiscal Year to come up with my final numerical ranking.  Yes, it's somewhat crude but all that GAO provides is general information.  

Below is my ranking of the most prevalent reasons for sustained protests listed by GAO for FY 2016 through FY 2013 with my numerical ranking:

  1. failure to follow the evaluation criteria (Numerical Ranking of 8.4 and it was listed 3rd in FY 2015 and 1st in FYs 2014 and 2013)
  2. unreasonable technical evaluation (Numerical Ranking of 8.28 and it was listed 5th in FY 2015, 3rd in FY 2014, and 1st in FY 2016)
  3. unreasonable cost or price evaluation (Numerical Ranking of 7.05 and it was listed 1st in FY 2015, 4th in FY 2013, and 3rd in FY 2016) and
  4. unreasonable past performance evaluation (Numerical Ranking of 6.89 and it was listed 2nd in FY 2015 and FY 2016)
  5. inadequate documentation of the record (Numerical Ranking of 3.97 and it was listed 4th in FY 2015 and 2nd in FY 2013)

Anyway, that is my way of trying to quantify the reasons.  

Other reasons for sustained protests GAO listed include

  • flawed selection decision (Numerical Ranking of 2.75 and it was listed 2nd in FY 2014)
  • unequal treatment of offerors (Numerical Ranking of 2.42 and it was listed 4th in FY 2014 and 3rd in FY 2013)

In addition to listing the most prevalent reasons, GAO also gives 1 example decision for each of the most prevalent reasons it lists in a FY.  For example, under unreasonable technical evaluation which GAO placed first in FY 2015, GAO lists Deloitte Consulting, LLP, B-412125.2, B-412125.3, Apr. 7, 2016, 2016 CPD ¶ 119.

To me, the most striking reason for GAO sustaining a protest is inadequate documentation. That can be prevented by a thorough review of what documents are provided in the evaluation and selection decision. If there is something missing, identify it and correct it. You can get more information on the documentation issue by looking at the Wifcon.com protest page FAR 15.305 (a)(3): Technical Evaluation - Documentation.

Another striking reason for sustained protests is the first that I list--failure to follow the evaluation criteria. One time a friend of mine was sitting on an evaluation panel for a GAO procurement that I had no involvement in at all. He had something extra he wanted to include in his evaluation of proposals and he asked me about it. Although I was stunned at the question, I simply told him that he must follow the evaluation criteria in the solicitation and if he had any questions he should ask the contracting officer--not me.

Before ending this entry, I will once again remind you that the information provided by GAO only includes sustained protests. These are decisions in which the agency digs in its heels and fights the protest to a final decision. As GAO explains, "agencies need not, and do not, report any of the myriad reasons they decide to take voluntary corrective action." What you see here may be the tip of the iceberg.


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As the year closes I want to say Thanks for keeping WIFCON going. I don't know what I would do without this treasure trove of important news, cases, and analysis.

Please keep it going!

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