Photo of Anuj VohraPhoto of Cherie Owen

On November 16, 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its Annual Report on Bid Protests for Fiscal Year 2021. While GAO received slightly fewer protests in FY2021 than in the year prior, the overall protest “Effectiveness Rate”—meaning the percentage of cases in which the protester received relief, such as voluntary corrective action or a GAO sustain—remained relatively constant, at 48% (the rate has ranged from 44% to 51% in each of the past five years).

GAO’s Annual Report also provides a helpful summary of the most common grounds for sustained protests in the prior year. In FY2021, those grounds were as follows: (1) unreasonable technical evaluation; (2) flawed discussions; (3) unreasonable cost or price evaluation; and (4) unequal treatment. The inclusion of “flawed discussions” on the list is notable—it is the first time in recent history that discussions-based protest arguments have proven so successful. Though firm conclusions are difficult to draw based upon a single year’s data, this may indicate that GAO is taking a closer look—and holding agencies to a higher standard—at the propriety and fairness of discussions.

The chart below shows the top sustain grounds by year. As seen below, flawed technical evaluations and flawed cost/price evaluations continue to represent some of the most consistently successful grounds for sustains, meaning would-be protesters should consider whether they have a credible basis to make such arguments when weighing an award challenge.

Most Prevalent Sustain Grounds By Year

 

2021

 

2020

 

2019

 

2018

 

2017

 

2016

 

2015

 

2014

 

2013

Flawed technical evaluation X X X X X X X
Flawed cost/price evaluation X X X X X X X
Flawed past performance evaluation X X X X
Flawed selection decision X X X X
Inadequate documentation X X X X
Unequal Treatment X X X X
Failure to follow evaluation criteria X X X
Flawed solicitation X
Flawed discussions X
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Photo of Anuj Vohra Anuj Vohra

Anuj Vohra litigates high-stakes disputes on behalf of government contractors in federal and state court, and maintains an active bid protest practice before the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He also assists clients with an array of…

Anuj Vohra litigates high-stakes disputes on behalf of government contractors in federal and state court, and maintains an active bid protest practice before the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He also assists clients with an array of issues related to contract formation (including subcontracts and teaming agreements), regulatory compliance, internal and government-facing investigations, suspension and debarment, organizational conflicts of interest (“OCIs”), intellectual property and data rights, and the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).

Prior to entering private practice, Anuj spent six years as a Trial Attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Commercial Litigation Branch. At DOJ, he was a member of the Bid Protest Team—which handles the department’s largest and most complex protests—and served as lead counsel in dozens of matters representing the United States in commercial disputes before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Court of Federal Claims, and the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Photo of Cherie Owen Cherie Owen

Cherie Owen is a senior counsel in the Government Contracts group. Cherie counsels and represents clients in a wide array of government contracts issues, with a focus on bid protests at the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the United States Court…

Cherie Owen is a senior counsel in the Government Contracts group. Cherie counsels and represents clients in a wide array of government contracts issues, with a focus on bid protests at the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the United States Court of Federal Claims. As a former GAO bid protest hearing officer, she resolved some of the most challenging bid protests on procurements ranging from thousands to billions of dollars involving solicitation challenges, proposal evaluation challenges, organizational conflicts of interest, Procurement Integrity Act violations, affirmative responsibility determinations, the conduct of discussions, and competitive range determinations. In this role, Cherie held numerous bid protest hearings. At GAO she handled more than 600 protests and issued more than 500 decisions.