GAO bid protests filed by contractors dropped 12% in fiscal 2021

A total of 1897 award protests were filed during fiscal 2021, compared with 2149 the year prior.
The facade of the GAO building in downtown Washington, D.C. (Cory Doctorow/Flickr)

The number of federal acquisition bid protests filed with the Government Accountability Office fell by 12% for the 2021 fiscal year.

The 1897 filed protests compare with 2149 complaints during the 2020 fiscal year and represent the third successive year in which GAO has reported a drop in the number of protests filed.

GAO each year issues a report to Congress in which it discloses bid protest trends and outlines the total number of solicitation complaints received during the prior fiscal year.

The last recorded increase in complaints filed occurred in fiscal 2018, when the figure rose by just under 1% to 2607.


During fiscal 2021, the number of bid protests closed fell to 2017 from 2137 in the prior fiscal year. The number of merit decisions, either to sustain or deny a complaint, increased to 581 from 545 in the previous year.

GAO’s recorded effectiveness rate fell slightly by three percentage points to 48% from 51% in fiscal 2020. The effectiveness rate is based on a protestor obtaining some form of relief from the agency, either as a result of voluntary agency corrective action or the GAO sustaining a protest.

Federal contractors seeking to challenge a contract award are able to file a complaint either at the agency level, with the GAO or at the Court of Federal Claims.

Technology companies often choose to file a protest with the GAO because under the Competition in Contracting Act, the agency must pause contested solicitation awards, if certain timeline criteria are met.

One reason for the drop in bid protests filed with the GAO could be a greater shift to indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity acquisitions, according to Shane McCall, equity partner at government contracting law firm Koprince McCall Pottroff.


“More agencies seem to be pushing work to IDIQ multiple-award contracts, where people are less likely to protest the IDIQ if they became an awardee. And if work is done through task orders under the limit then it cannot be protested,” McCall said.

McCall added that another potential explanation for the reduction in bid protests could be the rise in detailed debriefings conducted by GAO after bid disputes, which he said in some cases are stopping companies from filing. “Some companies are realizing what they did wrong, so it’s difficult to protest, and then deciding not to protest,” he said.

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