In May 2018, the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) implemented a $350 filing fee for bid protests. There are differences of opinion regarding why GAO implemented the fee. GAO publicly states that the fee was implemented to cover the costs of its new Electronic Protest Docket System (“EPDS”). Many, however, believe the fee was implemented to deter the filing of frivolous protests. Regardless, there “may” be an unintended consequence of the protest filing fee—an increase in agency-level protests. Recently, several agency contracting officers have stated that they are handling more agency protests, and, in their opinion, it is a direct result of GAO’s protest filing fee. As a result, contractors should understand and be prepared to mitigate the risk of agency protests to protect their contracts and position themselves for new ones.
Pros and Cons of Agency Protests
Beyond not having to pay a filing fee, there are pros (and cons) to filing an agency protest as opposed to a protest at GAO. Unlike at GAO, in agency protests, the agency is not required to file an agency report or produce documents; thus, there is no opportunity to review the agency’s decision-making process or file a supplemental agency protest. And, at the agency level, a protester does not get the opportunity to file Comments (i.e., rebut the agency’s legal position) on the agency’s report like it would get at GAO. As a result, a protester’s legal bills will be lower with an agency protest and you may receive an agency protest decision faster than at GAO (35 days vs. 100 days). Also, some believe filing an agency protest is favorable in terms of client relations. When you file a protest you essentially are suing your client or potential client. An agency protest is not a public filing like a protest filed at GAO. Thus, some believe a contractor benefits by filing an agency protest and not publicly airing an agency’s so-called dirty laundry at GAO. Finally, with one important caveat, an agency protest could be useful if a protester intends to elevate the protest to GAO or the Court of Federal Claims. Federal Acquisition Regulation 33.103 requires an agency to provide agency-protest decisions that are “well-reasoned, and explain the agency’s position.” If a protester receives an unfavorable agency-protest decision, the protester can use the information obtained from the decision to strengthen its arguments at GAO or the Court of Federal Claims. However, a contractor should keep in mind that, if its agency protest is unsuccessful, an automatic stay will not be available at GAO.
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