GAO Headquarters in Washington, DC

The Government Accountability Office has been publishing its annual bid protest statistics report to Congress since fiscal year 1995. That year GAO received 2,334 new protests and closed 2,528. For FY 2015, GAO reports that it received 2,496 new protests and closed 2,647.

Given the changes in contract law and the significant increase in expenditures on federal contracts over the last 20 years, these figures are remarkably consistent.

For Fiscal Year 2015, GAO reports that protesters obtained some form of relief in 45 percent of cases closed, either as the result of an agency’s voluntary corrective action or a decision sustaining some or all of the protest grounds. This “effectiveness rate” is marginally higher than it has been in the previous several years, when it hovered between 42 percent and 43 percent.

Winning bases for bid protests

One interesting piece of data added to GAO’s annual report in the last couple of years is the summary of the “most prevalent grounds for sustaining protests.” This new data element is the result of a requirement in a 2013 amendment to the Competition in Contracting Act. See 31 U.S.C. § 3554(e)(2).

In FY 2015, GAO identified five grounds of protest as the most prevalent. Even though it is drawn from only a small subset of protests that are actually resolved on the merits, GAO’s list of reasons for sustaining protests provides a roadmap for future protesters. Here is GAO’s list, along with a brief summary of the decision that GAO cites to illustrate it.
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Contractors have the constitutional right to rebut past performance evaluations before they are stigmatized by the government’s assessments in the future. See Old Dominion Dairy Products, Inc. v. Secretary of Defense, 631 F.2d 953 (D.C. Cir. 1980). But full exercise of this right has the potential to conflict with the practical interest in efficient government procurement. The final revisions to the rules governing the process for reporting and appealing past performance evaluations demonstrate that the two ideals are not easily balanced. The Federal Register notice announcing the final revision to FAR 42.1503 can be found at 78 Fed. Reg. 46783 (Aug. 1, 2013) [pdf].

Baby Swan

Helpful rules revisions

First the good news. The August 2013 final revisions to the rules requiring the government to evaluate past performance retain the existing requirement to allow contactor rebuttal and appeal. Commenters to the government’s proposal were unanimously against scrapping or substantially modifying the process. As summarized in the discussion of the final rule, commenters insisted that the appeals process “ensures that individual Government rater bias or lack of understanding of the complete program, not just contracting issues, can be brought out and addressed.” According to one commenter, at least 30 percent of past performance evaluation appeals result in substantive changes. The final rule maintains verbatim the language of former FAR 42.1503(b), now located at FAR 42.1503(d).


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The GAO’s decision in BC Peabody Constr. Serv., Inc., B-408023 (May 10, 2013) [pdf] illustrates the importance of establishing prejudice in a bid protest. The protester alleged that it proposed the same subcontractor (Bauer Foundation Corporation) as the awardee proposed on a dike rehabilitation project. Both offerors relied on Bauer for the “cut-off wall,” a critical element of the project. Both proposals showed that Bauer had the required experience for the cut-off wall.

Despite their use of the same subcontractor, the Corps of Engineers nevertheless assigned the awardee and the protester different scores for the cut-off wall element of their proposals. The Corps rated the awardee’s proposal acceptable for both the demonstrated experience and past performance subfactors, but it rated the protester’s proposal unacceptable.  The GAO agreed the Corps’s action was procurement error. “Where multiple proposals propose the same contractor, once the agency becomes aware of that subcontractor’s experience . . . it cannot reasonably assign one proposal a higher score than another based on that experience.” GAO nevertheless denied the protest.


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There is no doubt that contractors have the power to challenge an erroneous assessment of their performance on a government contract. FAR 42.1503 requires the government to issue past performance reviews in draft. Contractors are entitled to rebut any inaccuracies in the draft. Even if the government declines to make a requested change, contractors are entitled to have their comments included in the final report. Under the FAR disputes clause, contractors may submit a claim challenging a faulty past performance assessment. Denial of such a claim can be appealed to a Board of Contract Appeals or the United States Court of Federal Claims.

Of course getting a court decision reversing a poor past performance assessment presents a number of hurdles. One such hurdle is the requirement that a contractor submit a “claim” and that the contracting officer issue a final decision denying it. Without a claim and a final decision or sufficient passage of time to establish a “deemed denial,” there would be no jurisdiction allowing a Board or the Court to consider a contractor challenge to a poor past performance assessment.

But what happens when a negative past performance assessment is linked to unresolved disputes over delays, change orders, or government backcharges? Wouldn’t a resolution in the contractor’s favor necessarily require a reassessment of the contractor’s performance? As a matter of common sense, yes. Unfortunately common sense doesn’t create Contract Disputes Act jurisdiction. The recent decision in Extreme Coatings, Inc. v. United States, No. 11-895C (Fed. Cl. Oct. 3, 2012), concludes that a claim involving affirmative contractor claims or government counterclaims does not meet the jurisdictional requirement for a claim challenging past performance.


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BriefcaseThe Contractor’s Perspective is up to three entries on the application of FAR 52.204-10, which requires some federal contractors and first-tier subcontractors to report the compensation of their top-five highest paid executives. Even though it has been almost two years since the requirement first appeared in the FAR, the topic still generates a lot of interest and a lot of questions. Here are answers to some of the questions we received in the executive compensation reporting segment of our recent webinar on Transparency in Government Contracting. We hope you find them useful.

Question: Does FAR 52.204-10 apply only to new contracts or does it also apply retroactively to existing contracts?

Answer: Even though the statutory requirement for reporting executive compensation became law in April 2008 when President Bush signed the Government Funding Transparency Act of 2008, the contractual requirement didn’t go into effect until July 8, 2010, when the FAR Councils published FAR 52.204-10 as an “interim rule.” According to the text of the interim rule, FAR 52.204-10 is required in all contracts over $25,000 that are awarded after July 8, 2010. It does not apply to contracts awarded before on or before July 8, 2010.


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New mandates on how evaluation criteria must be stated in Postal Service solicitations are required by the recently revised USPS Supplying Principles and Practices (SPP) manual. The SPP revisions were issued on December 12, 2011. The full text of the new SPP is available by clicking here. In addition to these changes, the Postal Service has introduced a new “Simplified Purchasing” method. Simplified Purchasing will be more streamlined than the traditional method, will commonly use oral solicitations, and may be used on procurements valued at up to $1 million. 


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Many of the new contracting policies imposed by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 [pdf] are geared towards increasing oversight of defense contractors and reducing the federal government’s outlay of cash. Here are a few of the highlights.

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Corrections to the proposed rewrite of FAR 42.1503 reinstate the contractor’s role in past performance evaluations. As published on June 28, 2011, the rewritten FAR provision omitted language from the existing clause that protects the contractor’s interests in the process. As corrected on August 9, the contractor protections have been restored.


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Improving agency assessments of contractor past performance has been a priority since the Government Accountability Office published its 2009 report criticizing the system. A number of new FAR rules can be linked to GAO’s recommendations. For example, GAO pointed to the lack of reporting on default terminations and defective pricing. The FAR has now been amended to require default terminations and defective pricing be reported as part of a contractor’s past performance. See 75 Fed. Reg. 60258 (Sept. 29, 2010) [pdf]. The latest proposed revision to the FAR responds to GAO’s recommendation that there be greater uniformity in past performance reporting. See 76 Fed. Reg. 37704 (June 28, 2011). The proposed rule would revise FAR 42.1503 to include five minimum evaluation factors for which contractors are to be evaluated:  (i) Technical or Quality; (ii) Cost Control (as applicable); (iii) Schedule/Timeliness; (iv) Management or Business Relations; and (v) Small Business Subcontracting (as applicable).  The proposed rule would also impose a uniform ratings scale for use by past performance evaluators. As defined in the CPARS Policy Guide, past performance would have to be described as exceptional, very good, satisfactory, marginal, or unsatisfactory.
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Contractors seeking to comply with the new requirement to report the compensation of their five highest paid executives under FAR 52.204-10 (July 2010) still have a lot of unresolved questions. We heard some of the questions during our June 8, 2011 webinar on the topic, which was sponsored by L2 Federal Resources, LLC, publisher of The Contracting Post. Thanks for hosting!

Here are some of the questions posed, along with our answers.


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