What happens to bid protests during a shutdown?

The arbiter of contested federal contract awards won't be looking at protests until the government starts back up.

Shutterstock image (by Mascha Tace): business contract competition, just out of reach.
 

If a contractor had a beef with a recent federal contract award during the shutdown, their protest would have fallen on deaf ears at the federal agency that adjudicates those complaints until the government starts operations back up.

The Government Accountability Office's bid protest office was shuttered on Saturday night, along with the rest of the GAO, as the government shut down operations, according to guidance posted on its website.

Professional Services Council CEO David Berteau said that although his organization hasn't heard of any big problems involving protests in the last three days, some smaller issues may yet come up.

For instance, he said if Monday were the last day a company had to file a protest formally, and no one was there to accept their documents, that firm may have an issue.

GAO said it was still accepting emailed protests via email during the short shutdown, but aggrieved contractors were told not to mail or hand deliver protest documents to the agency's shuttered mail center. Fax machines at the office were also disabled, the notice said.

Despite the email address, since the office is closed, protests that arrive via that route won't be seen by a set of human eyes until after the shutdown ends, according to GAO. It said any new protests it receives during the time it is closed will be treated as filed on the day the government resumes operations.

Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, said after the Senate's Monday-afternoon vote to move on ending the shut down after three days, said a short closing might be worked to contractors’ advantage. The shutdown "potentially delays decisions, but, at the same time, gives protestors extra time to file," he said, adding that delays could stop work on contracts.

The closure could mar the GAO's 2017 record of issuing final protest decisions on protests within 100 days. In the agency's annual report to Congress, the agency said it was "pleased to report that there were no such occurrences during fiscal year 2017."

Even though the Senate was moving quickly on Monday to end the shutdown, Berteau said a new deadline on Feb. 8 looms, and could once again put contractors and agencies in the same situation. And the longer any shutdown delays operations, the greater the subsequent problems with processing bid protests, he said.

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