Photo of 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 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.

On December 27, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Preventing Organizational Conflicts of Interest in Federal Acquisition Act (S.3905) to strengthen the current rules relating to identification and mitigation of organizational conflicts of interest (OCIs) in federal acquisition. The Act focuses on updating the current FAR provision, Subpart 9.5, to provide clear definitions, examples

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. 

Continue Reading GAO’s 2022 Bid Protest Report to Congress for FY 2021 Shows Better than 50% Chance of Obtaining Relief

Challenging an agency’s failure to award a “strength” for a proposal feature can prove to be an exercise in futility.  GAO frequently characterizes this oft-rejected argument as mere disagreement and defers to the agency’s conclusions.  But, following GAO’s decision in Tech Marine Business, Inc., B-420872, Oct. 14, 2022, the tide may be turning.  Agencies are now required to demonstrate that their decision not to award strength credit was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria.

The protester, Tech Marine Business, Inc. (Tech Marine) alleged that the Navy failed to award Tech Marine a strength for its transition plan.  The solicitation required the awardee to “begin work immediately and assume responsibility from the incumbent Contractor, if applicable, within 60 days after Task Order award.”  Tech Marine, the incumbent contract, explained that its transition plan exceeded the Navy’s schedule for workload turnover and that transition would be completed “well in advance of the 60–day requirement.”

Continue Reading GAO Breathes New Life into the Commonly Denied “Failure to Award a Strength” Protest Ground

Protesters looking to challenge U.S. Government awards of “Other Transaction Agreements” (“OTAs”) face forum challenges—the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”), Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”), and federal district courts have all dismissed OTA protests for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, with GAO and the COFC concluding that OTAs are not procurement contracts.  But last week, in Hydraulics International, Inc. v. United States, the COFC held it could exercise jurisdiction over a challenge to an OTA award made in connection with a potential future procurement.

In Hydraulics, the Court considered a challenge to the Army’s award of an OTA for Aviation Ground Power Unit (“AGPU”) protypes used to service military helicopters.  The Army invited offerors to respond to a Request for Enhanced Whitepapers (“RWP”), which contemplated awards to two companies for the “base effort” of one prototype AGPU.  The RWP instructed that the base-effort award “may result in the award of a follow-on production contract for over 150 AGPUs without the use of competitive procedures.”

Continue Reading Sometimes, the Court of Federal Claims Does Consider OTA Protests

Last week, the Court of Federal Claims issued a decision highlighting – and further widening – the gap between the limited agency record typically available to protesters at the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) and the much more fulsome record available at the Court.  In Trace Systems Inc. v. U.S., the Court signaled its increasing willingness to scrutinize the adequacy of the record produced, rather than simply accept Government representations of completeness.

Trace Systems considered a challenge to the cancellation of a competitive procurement in favor of a sole-source award by the Defense Information Systems Agency (“DISA”).  After the Government filed an administrative record containing nearly 23,000 pages of documents purportedly detailing the cancellation decision, the protester objected and sought the production of additional documents, claiming only six of the originally produced documents were relevant.  The Court ordered DISA to complete the record, and the Government produced additional documents.  DISA explained, however, that it was withholding other records that were “internal, predecisional, and deliberative agency documents.”  The protester again objected and asked the Court to compel the Government to file all relevant documents.  In response, the Government represented that, beyond the pre-decisional documents it had withheld, the record was now complete.

Continue Reading COFC: Strictly Scrutinizing the Completeness of the Government’s Administrative Record

On June 23, 2022, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Army contractor Envistacom LLC and two of its executives alleging participation in a fraudulent scheme that deprived the federal government of competition and making false representations to the government in furtherance of the conspiracy. The indictment also charged the executive as a co-conspirator, and asserts the conspirators coordinated in the preparation of so-called “competitive quotes” submitted in connection with 8(a) set aside contracts. The quotes were allegedly fraudulently inflated in order to all but guarantee the government customer would sole source the award to the conspirators’ pre-determined bidder. This indictment represents the fruits of yet another investigation by the Department of Justice’s Procurement Collusion Strike Force (“PCSF”).

According to the indictment, the defendants conspired to prepare and secure “sham” pricing quotes from third-party companies that were intentionally higher than Envistacom’s proposals to ensure that the government issued sole source awards to Envistacom. Further, the defendants allegedly coordinated with an unnamed government employee who acted as a co-conspirator and assisted in preparing and submitting Independent Government Cost Estimates (“IGCE”) for certain set aside contracts to ensure that the pre-determined bidder’s proposal would be lower than the IGCEs. Finally, the indictment alleges that the defendants made “false statements, representations, and material omissions to federal government contracting officials” about the IGCEs being “legitimate” and the sham quotes being “competitive.”

Continue Reading Procurement Collusion Strike Force Nabs Another Military Contractor in Bid Rigging Scheme

After a recent Court of Federal Claims (“COFC”) decision limited the circumstances under which a departure of key personnel may doom an offeror’s proposal, an even more recent GAO decision might have swung the pendulum right back. In Sehlke Consulting, LLC, GAO sustained a protest because the agency failed to penalize the awardee when a proposed key person employed under the incumbent contract provided notice that he planned to resign. Even though the key person was still employed on the date of award, GAO held that the agency’s failure to consider his “prospective unavailability” for the follow-on contract undermined the contract award.

The following dates were relevant:

  • Performance of the follow-on contract was scheduled to begin February 1, 2022.
  • On January 11, 2022, one of the awardee’s proposed key personnel (who was then an employee of a subcontractor on the incumbent contract) announced that he planned to resign effective January 28, 2022. The awardee timely notified the Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (“COTR”) for the incumbent contract.
  • On January 25, 2022, the agency completed its evaluations and awarded the contract.
  • On January 28, 2022—after award but before performance was to begin—the key person’s resignation became effective.


Continue Reading GAO Finds Key Person “Unavailable” Despite Still Being Employed on Date of Award

As Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues, countries around the world are taking action.  Relevant to U.S. Government contractors, on April 22, the Defense Logistics Agency (“DLA”) issued a Request for Information (“RFI”) seeking information on companies’ abilities to deliver military and commercial assistance to Ukraine.  The RFI states that “the Biden Administration is working around

Crowell & Moring’s “All Things Protest” podcast keeps you up to date on major trends in bid protest litigation, key developments in high-profile cases, and best practices in state and federal procurement. In this episode, Crowell attorneys discuss their recent “Feature Comment,” published in The Government Contractor, discussing the recent Court of Federal

Contractors that encounter problematic solicitation provisions have many avenues to address them, such as industry days, questions and answers, and even communications directly with an agency.  However, the recent Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) decision in Science and Technology Corporation serves as an important reminder that contractors must be thoughtful about when and how they communicate directly with an agency.  Depending on the specific content of their communications, contractors can unwittingly create a timeliness trap that will shorten their deadline to file a GAO protest.

On September 13, Science and Technology Corporation (“STC”) sent a “letter of concern” to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (“NOAA”) expressing dissatisfaction with a key personnel requirement in a particular solicitation, and requesting that the requirement be amended.  NOAA responded the next day, denying the request and noting that the requirement was “an important aspect” of the solicitation.

On October 1—which was 17 days after NOAA’s rejection, but still prior to the due date for receipt of proposals—STC filed a pre-award protest at GAO challenging the solicitation requirement.  Ordinarily, a pre-award protest challenging solicitation requirements is timely so long as it is filed before the deadline for receipt of proposals.  See 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(1) (“Protests based upon alleged improprieties in a solicitation which are apparent prior to bid opening or the time set for receipt of initial proposals shall be filed prior to bid opening or the time set for receipt of initial proposals. . . .”).  However, GAO dismissed STC’s protest as untimely, concluding that STC’s September 13 letter constituted an agency-level protest, and holding that STC was required to protest at GAO no later than 10 days after NOAA’s September 14 rejection.  See 4 C.F.R. § 21.2(a)(3) (“If a timely agency-level protest was previously filed, any subsequent protest to GAO must be filed within 10 days of actual or constructive knowledge of initial adverse agency action. . . .”).

Continue Reading Letter to Agency About Solicitation Requirement Creates Pre-Award Timeliness Trap