General Accountability Office Protests – 2008 Records Show High Activity in Federal Procurement Protests

By Lynn Patton Thompson

The General Accountability Office ("GAO") considers protest against the solicitation and award of Federal contracts. Generally, under its "bid protest" function, it handles protests which contest the competitive nature of the terms of a solicitation and its compliance with procurement law and regulation and it handles protests against the propriety of the award of contracts.

Many contractors choose the GAO, as opposed to the Court of Federal Claims, because the laws and regulations permitting the right to protest Federal procurements to the GAO require the stay against a protested procurement action, provided the protest is timely filed. No other forum allows for this "automatic stay". Also, it is one of the least expensive and quickest fora for obtaining a decision. Decisions are generally issued within 120 days from the date of protest.

2008 was one of GAO’s busiest protest years. Over 1600 cases were filed, and the GAO closed over 1500 of them. Although the number of actions filed at the GAO was up 17% from the previous fiscal year, the percentage of sustained actions (actions in favor of the protester) fell from 29% to 21%.

The GAO was originally called the General Accounting Office. Although "Accounting" was changed to "Accountability" in 2004, it’s purpose remains the same: "investigate, at the seat of government or elsewhere, all matters relating to the receipt, disbursement, and application of public funds, and shall make to the President…and to Congress…reports (and) recommendations looking to greater economy or efficiency in public expenditures". It is an investigative arm of Congress.