In the world of GAO protests, as in life, its generally best to go with the rule – not the exception.
For protest timing, the general rule of thumb is to file within 10 days of when you knew (or should have known) of the basis for the protest. Notably, there is an exception to this rule where a contractor is entitled to a “requested and required” debriefing. Under those circumstances, GAO’s rules extend the filing date to 10 days following the first date offered for the debriefing.
Today’s lesson: Be wary of allowing the debriefing exception to swallow the rule. Contractors must be aware that not all debriefings extend the filing deadline – only the requested and required variety under the FAR.
Teaching this lesson the hard way, the GAO recently dismissed a protest over a State Department drapery services contract as untimely. Specifically, the GAO held that the protester knew of its protest grounds well before its debriefing with the agency.
Why – in this instance – did the debriefing not save the protester? It was not required under the commercial item acquisition rules that governed the procurement. By waiting until after the debriefing to file, the protester blew past the deadline that began to run at the time it became aware of the alleged procurement error giving rise to the protest.
Government contractors should treat each potential protest as unique – making sure to understand the specific timing issues in play long before a deadline approaches. Relying on inapplicable exceptions will only lead to heartache (in the form of a dismissed protest).