Time to crack the protest case

IAC should take the lead in helping reduce the frequency of bid protests

In years past, the Industry Advisory Council took an active lead in our community by tackling critical matters, such as improving government/industry communications and defining and refining the role of government chief information officers in the wake of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. The IAC has not taken on such momentous issues in recent years, but it remainsa powerful organization and potentially a positive motivator of change in our community. Meanwhile, a new issue has arisen that deserves its attention: bid protests.

One of the major benefits we enjoyed after Clinger-Cohen and procurement reform some 10 years ago was a significant decrease in the number of bid protests.

Unfortunately, that trend has been reversed. The number of protests, including the number of successful protests, is increasing. That pattern has emerged for several reasons, including a shrinking acquisition force, decreased training for acquisition employees, increased complexity of solutions being acquired and the increased pressue on the acquisition corps to quickly award contracts.

No matter that protests are an unproductive, costly use of resources for industry and government. As often as not, protests are started in the hope of exposing some flaw that can be exploited, and the final grounds for the protest end up looking nothing like the original complaint.

To be clear, industry is not the only one at fault in this increased rate of protests. The fact that many protests are being upheld is a sign that something is also wrong on the acquisition side. In defense of industry protesters, we have to acknowledge that bid costs are extremely high, and the stress on the bid and capture folks in the private sector is extremely high. Having to spend $250,000 — and in some cases even millions of dollars — only to find out that a company is “not a successful offeror” is a tough pill to swallow.

IAC is in a good position to bring industry, legal and contracting experts together to figure out what both the public and private sector could do to decrease the number of protests so that we can all refocus on finding ways to use information technology products and services to improve the business of government. No one really likes protests, and it’s difficult to have a strong, positive customer relationship after a vendor has challenged its customers’ competency and, in some cases, their integrity.

For some reason, in the years after Clinger-Cohen, we saw a pleasing decrease in the number of protests, and for some reason, that has changed. We need to understand why that has happened, correct it and get our business moving again.

About the Author

Robert J. Guerra is a partner at the consulting firm Guerra and Kiviat.

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