Taking the Bitter with the Sweet: Some Benefits of Protesting Federal Procurements

The U.S. protest system is a critical component of the federal government’s contracting regime. Arguably, certain aspects should be revised, but it should not be abandoned altogether.

First, it serves the purpose of contributing to transparency of the federal procurement process by allowing the public to challenge the actions of government procurement officials. Through use of private “attorneys general,” unsuccessful offerors can complain about the government’s failure to comply with federal laws. Allowing the public sector to provide this check on the government’s compliance with acquisition laws and regulations provides additional oversight to compliment that provided through government internal agency audits and reviews, inspections, or inspectors general investigations.

Second, it protects the integrity of the government’s procurement system by allowing and even encouraging the public sector to challenge procurement officials’ actions by going directly to the Agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and / or the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (COFC). While the interested party challenging the procurement act may primarily be seeking a personal remedy, bringing the acquisition under the review of a neutral, third-party decision-maker, who will render a publicized decision, acts as an additional incentive for contracting officials to make awards based only on proper criteria.

Third, challenging government contract awards increases competition by giving potential offerors a sense the process, while sometimes flawed, strives to be fair and open to all eligible competitors without preferential treatment. The more questionable procurement decisions are challenged and, if improper, made to be corrected, the more likely businesses will continue to invest time and money preparing offers and participating in competitions viewed as legitimate and fairly conducted.

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