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GAO: Late Is Late–Even If Agency Server Malfunctions

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Koprince Law LLC

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You’ve hit send on that electronic proposal, hours before the deadline and now you can sit back and feel confident that you’ve done everything in your power – at least it won’t be rejected as untimely – right?

Not so fast. If an electronically submitted proposal gets delayed, the proposal may be rejected–even if the delay could have been caused by malfunctioning government equipment. In a recent bid protest decision, the GAO continued a recent pattern of ruling against protesters whose electronic proposals are delayed. And in this case, the GAO ruled against the protester even though the protester contended that an agency server malfunction had caused the delay.

Western Star Hospital Authority, B-414216.2 (May 18, 2017) involved an Army RFP for emergency medical services.  The RFP required that proposals be submitted no later than 4:00 pm., EST on January 30, 2017, to the Contracting Officer’s email address.

The RFP incorporated FAR 52.212-1 (Instructions to Offerors-Commercial Items).  Paragraph (f)(2) of that clause provides that any “offer, modification, revision, or withdrawal of an offer received at the Government office designated in the solicitation after the exact time specified for receipt of offers is ‘late’ and will not be considered.”

On the date the proposals were due, Western Star emailed four proposal documents to the CO’s email address. The emails were sent at 2:43 p.m., 2:57 p.m., 3:01 p.m. and 3:06 p.m., well before the 4:00 p.m. deadline. For reasons unknown, the emails did not arrive at the initial point of entry to the Government infrastructure until after 6:00 p.m., well after the deadline. The Army rejected the proposal as late.

Western filed a GAO bid protest challenging the Army’s decision. Western argued that it was “guilty of no fault” and that it was “completely unfair and unreasonable to reject its bid because of factors beyond its control.”

Western argued that the agency’s servers were “not accessible,” and furnished a mail log from its service provider supporting its position. The Army disputed Western’s position. The Army provided a statement from its Information Assurance Manager, who said that the emails were “delayed by the protester’s servers” and that the delay “was not the fault or responsibility of the Government, which has no control over commercial providers used by the Protester.”

The GAO declined to resolve the question of whose servers had malfunctioned. Instead, the GAO indicated that Western’s proposal would be considered late regardless of whose equipment had malfunctioned. Citing its own prior authority, the GAO wrote, “[w] have repeatedly found that it is an offeror’s responsibility to ensure that an electronically submitted proposal is received by–not just submitted to–the appropriate agency email address prior to the time set for closing.” Because Western’s proposal “was not received at the agency’s servers until after the deadline for receipt of proposals,” the proposal was late.

The GAO also cited FAR 52.212-1(f)(2)(i)(A), which states that a late proposal, received before award, may be accepted if it was transmitted electronically and received at the initial point of entry to the Government infrastructure no later than 5:00 p.m. one working day prior to the due date. But Western did not submit its proposal by 5:00 one working day prior to the due date, so it could not avail itself of that exception.

The GAO declined to discuss any of the other exceptions to FAR 52.212-1(f)(2), such as the important “government control” exception, stating that the exceptions were “not pertinent” to the issue in Western. As we’ve written before, the Court of Federal Claims disagrees with the GAO when it comes to the question of whether these exceptions apply to electronic proposals, and we think the Court has the better position.

For now, though, Western Star Hospital Authority stands as an important warning to contractors who submit proposals electronically. Under the GAO’s current precedent, a late-submitted electronic proposal is late–even if the lateness was due to malfunctioning government equipment. The only exception recognized by the GAO under FAR 52.212-1 is the “5:00 p.m. one working day prior” exception, and contractors would be wise to take that into account when determining when to submit electronic proposals.


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It always amazes me how many times an offeror will wait until the last possible moment (in some cases, literally the last few minutes) before submitting an offer.  I've had people walk in the door 3 minutes late to a bid opening and complaining because their watch had a different time than the clock in the bid opening room.  Crazy...

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An offeror intending to submit a proposal by e-mail really, really, really should make its submission by 5:00 p.m. one working day prior to the date specified for receipt of offers."

An offeror who fails to do so, and whose proposal is late, should protest to the Court of Federal Claims instead of to the GAO.  I'm with the GAO on this matter.

Desparado, I've done a number of bid openings but I've never had that pressing situation -- I have had situations where a bidder arrived late and he knew he was late, so there was no complaint.  At a bid opening, I always clearly announce when the time set for bid opening has arrived, as you probably do, too.  In training others to do bid openings, I remind them that they must have the professional backbone to declare the time and then to stand by their announcement.  I tend to discern that many of our younger colleagues do not have sufficient backbone to do it.

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