Photo of Amy Laderberg O'SullivanPhoto of John E. McCarthy Jr.Photo of Anuj VohraPhoto of Rob SneckenbergPhoto of Cherie Owen

On November 1, 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its Annual Report on Bid Protests for Fiscal Year 2022.  While the number of protests GAO received dropped by 12% for the second year in a row, the overall protest “Effectiveness Rate”—meaning the percentage of cases in which the protester received some form of relief, such as voluntary corrective action by the agency or a GAO sustain—increased to 51%, tying Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 for the highest rate in 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 FY2022, those grounds were: (1) unreasonable technical evaluation; (2) flawed selection decision; and (3) flawed solicitation.  The inclusion of “flawed solicitation” on the list is notable—it has only made the list of “most successful grounds” one other time since GAO began tracking successful protest grounds.  This serves as a reminder that contractors should consider a pre-award protest as a potentially viable method of resolving solicitation flaws and ambiguities if other routes (such as the Q&A process) are unsuccessful or unavailable.    

The chart below shows the top sustain grounds by year.  As seen below, flawed technical evaluations continue to represent one 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. 

The Report also indicates that bid protest hearings have all but disappeared—GAO conducted just 2 last year—representing less than 1% of cases.  The decrease is unlikely to be the result of remote work: GAO has been conducting remote hearings via teleconference or video conference since early 2020 and in 2021 it held 13 hearings.  Whatever the reason, protesters should keep in mind that nearly all protests will be won or lost on the written papers alone.

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. GAO’s effectiveness rate of over 50 percent means that in more than half of the protests GAO granted the protester some form of relief, in most cases voluntary corrective action by the agency.  These statistics demonstrate that GAO remains an effective and efficient forum for challenging procurement decisions.
  2. Given the success of pre-award solicitation challenges in recent years, contractors should consider pre-award protests to address solicitation flaws.
  3. The near nonexistence of GAO hearings emphasizes the importance of effective written submissions in GAO protests. 
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Photo of Amy Laderberg O'Sullivan Amy Laderberg O'Sullivan

Amy Laderberg O’Sullivan is a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, a member of the Steering Committee for the firm’s Government Contracts Group, and former chair of the firm’s Diversity Council. Her practice involves a mix of litigation, transactional work, investigations, and

Amy Laderberg O’Sullivan is a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, a member of the Steering Committee for the firm’s Government Contracts Group, and former chair of the firm’s Diversity Council. Her practice involves a mix of litigation, transactional work, investigations, and counseling for corporate clients of all sizes and levels of experience as government contractors. On the litigation side, she has represented corporate clients in bid protests (agency level, GAO, ODRA, Court of Federal Claims, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, as well as state and local bid protests in numerous jurisdictions), size and status protests before the U.S. Small Business Administration, claims litigation before the various Boards of Contract Appeals, Defense Base Act claims litigation at the Administrative Law Judge and Benefits Review Board levels, civil and criminal investigations, and she has been involved in complex commercial litigation.

Photo of John E. McCarthy Jr. John E. McCarthy Jr.

John E. McCarthy, Jr. is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell & Moring and member of the firm’s Government Contracts Group. John has spent more than thirty years litigating all forms of government contracts cases for both large and small…

John E. McCarthy, Jr. is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Crowell & Moring and member of the firm’s Government Contracts Group. John has spent more than thirty years litigating all forms of government contracts cases for both large and small government contractors, with a particular emphasis on bid protests. Because of John’s strong engineering background, he has particular experience in technology related issues, including litigation regarding complex technology and data rights, patent and other intellectual property issues.

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 Rob Sneckenberg Rob Sneckenberg

Rob Sneckenberg is a government contracts litigator in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office. He routinely first chairs bid protests before the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and U.S. Court of Federal Claims (COFC), and has successfully argued multiple appeals before the U.S.

Rob Sneckenberg is a government contracts litigator in Crowell & Moring’s Washington, D.C. office. He routinely first chairs bid protests before the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and U.S. Court of Federal Claims (COFC), and has successfully argued multiple appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He also represents contractors in contract claim and cost accounting disputes before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals (ASBCA), and counsels clients on a wide array of government contracts investigations. Rob is very active in Crowell & Moring’s pro bono program, where he focuses on civil and criminal appeals.

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.