(contributed to by Derek R. Mullins)
When protesting to the Government Accountability Office, contractors must satisfy GAO’s “interested party” rule. In other words, a protester must be an actual or prospective bidder or offeror with a direct economic interest in the procurement. In post-award protests, it is expected that the entity that files a protest of an award is the same entity that would be in line for contract award were its protest sustained. GAO has considered cases where protests are filed under the names of entities that have some manner of corporate relationship with an actual offeror. In many instances, regardless of the protester’s affiliation with the actual offeror, GAO will strictly apply the interested party rule to the entity that filed the protest.
Yet, in a November 21, 2013 decision that was finally made public on January 24, 2014, GAO did something different. In the Matter of Harris Patriot Healthcare Solutions, LLC, B-408737, the protest of the issuance of a task order under a Request for Task Execution Plan No. T4-0236 had originally been filed under the name “Harris Corporation.” As explained in a footnote in the decision, the Department of Veterans Affairs originally awarded a T4 contract to Harris Corporation. Earlier in 2013 however, the VA and Harris Corporation agreed to a novation of the contract to Harris Patriot Healthcare Solutions, LLC, such that at the time the protest was filed, the T4 contractor was Harris Patriot Healthcare Solutions, LLC.
Unsurprisingly, the VA requested that GAO dismiss the protest on the basis that the protester was not an interested party. GAO denied the motion, and apparently did not even get to the interested party test. Instead GAO focused on the circumstances, namely that the protester called filing under the name “Harris Corporation” a misnomer and that, throughout the procurement, Harris Patriot Healthcare Solutions, LLC was commonly referred to as “Harris Corporation” by both the protester and the VA (though GAO noted that this was apparently inaccurately done). GAO concluded that all parties “were fully aware that Harris Patriot Healthcare Solutions, LLC was the protester despite the misnomer” and the VA’s request for dismissal was denied.
Despite GAO’s willingness to relax its rigid interpretation of its standing requirements in this case, contractors who have undergone corporate restructuring or a novation of an existing government contract should take care to ensure that they are mindful of the impact of such a change from a protest perspective.