Over the years, GAO's decisions on federal contract awards have created a uniform body of law applicable to the procurement process upon which the Congress, the courts, agencies, and the public rely. Although a party to a protest may be represented by counsel, filing a bid protest with GAO does not require the services of an attorney. In addition, bid protests filed with GAO are usually resolved faster than those filed in federal court.

The following frequently asked questions are intended for a general audience and should not be considered legal advice. Readers should be aware that many of the rules for filing and pursuing protests, as well as the substantive matters of bid protest law, are complex, and these FAQs are not intended to address all possible issues and situations.

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Thinking about Filing a Bid Protest?
What is a bid protest?

A bid protest is a challenge to the award or proposed award of a contract for the procurement of goods and services or a challenge to the terms of a solicitation for such a contract.

What kinds of bid protests can be filed at GAO?

Protests may be filed against procurement actions by federal agencies.  This authority is provided to GAO under the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 (CICA), 31 U.S.C. 3551-3557. 

In addition, GAO’s regulations also permit the filing and consideration of nonstatutory protests (i.e., protests considered under the authority of a statute other than the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984).  These nonstatutory protests concern, among other things, sales by a federal agency or procurements by government agencies other than those as defined in Section 21.0(c) of our Bid Protest Regulations.  Our Office will only resolve these protests if the agency involved has agreed in writing to have such protests decided by GAO.   Certain agencies have provided GAO with letters of consent to resolve nonstatutory protests on a continuing basis:  the Defense Logistics Agency, the US Forest Service, and the General Services Administration for property sales, and the Architect of the Capitol for procurements.  Other agencies, however, have only consented to GAO’s consideration of a nonstatutory protest for a particular case after it was filed with our Office, with the agency involved making the decision whether to give consent on a case-by-case basis.

This is historical information only, and provides no guarantee that an agency will continue to permit GAO’s consideration of any future nonstatutory protest.

What authority does GAO rely on for nonstatutory protests?

Nonstatutory protests are resolved under GAO’s plenary authority provided by Congress under the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921.  For 60 years prior to the passage of CICA, GAO resolved bid protests of federal procurements as part of this authority.  The Act gave GAO the authority to investigate the disbursement of public funds, and GAO applied that authority to reviews of the manner in which government agencies incurred obligations, which included protests of federal procurements.  Because CICA was not intended to limit GAO's ability to otherwise review protests that GAO had been deciding prior to the enactment of CICA, our authority to consider these nonstatutory protests continues. 

What kinds of protests cannot be filed at GAO?

Protests may not be filed against procurement actions by nonfederal government agencies, such as state, local, or foreign governments, or actions by certain exempted federal agencies, such as the Postal Service. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.5) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.

Who can file a bid protest at GAO?

Only "interested parties" may file protests. In the case of a solicitation challenge, an interested party is generally a potential bidder for the contract. In the case of a contract award challenge, an interested party is generally an actual bidder that did not win the contract. In addition, other factors, such as the bidder’s standing in the competition and the nature of the issues raised may affect whether it qualifies as an interested party. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(a)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.

When must a protest be filed?

In general, a protest challenging the terms of a solicitation must be filed before the time for receipt of initial proposals. A protest challenging the award of a contract must be filed within 10 days of when a protester knows or should know of the basis of the protest (a special case applies where, under certain circumstances, the protester receives a required debriefing). Please be aware that the regulations regarding the timely filing of protests depend on the circumstances of each case and are strictly enforced. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.2) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.

How is time calculated for filing deadlines?

"Days," under GAO’s regulations, means "calendar days." In the event a deadline falls on a weekend, federal holiday, or other day when GAO is closed, the deadline is extended to the next business day. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(e)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.

I was awarded a contract and was told that the award has been protested — what must I do, and what am I allowed to do?

Parties that have been awarded a contract are permitted to participate in a protest as an intervenor. They are not required to do so, however, as it is the agency’s responsibility to respond to the protest.

Are employee unions or representatives allowed to file protests or participate as intervenors?

Government employees and their representatives may participate as protesters and intervenors in protests involving competitions conducted under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.0(a)(2), (button)(2)) and Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide.

Do I need an attorney to file a protest or participate as an intervenor?

No. Parties may file a protest or participate as an intervenor without being represented by an attorney. However, only attorneys are permitted to have access to material subject to a protective order.

Already Filed a Bid Protest?
What is a protective order?

A protective order prohibits disclosure of sensitive information during a protest. A protective order may be issued by GAO at the request of a protester and allows attorneys admitted to the order to review sensitive information, such as proposals and agency evaluation documents. Only attorneys who are not engaged in "competitive decision making" for a party are eligible for admission to a protective order. Attorneys admitted to a protective order may not disclose protected information to their clients (the protester or intervenor ) and must reach agreement with attorneys for the opposing parties and GAO before protected information is released to the public. The protective order process allows attorneys to argue a protest on behalf of a protester or intervenor, without the disclosure of sensitive information. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.4) and Guide to Protective Orders.

How are GAO protests identified?

Each protest is assigned a unique six-digit "button-number". A protest is identified as, for example, "Protester Name, button-123456." If related protests are filed, the protests are identified as "Protester Name, button-123456.2, Protester Name, button-123456.3", etc.

How do I get more information about a protest that has been filed?

You may search our bid protest docket by button - number, protester name, agency name, and solicitation number. The docket provides information concerning the filing date, decision deadline, the GAO attorney assigned to the protest, and the current status of the protest. When a decision is publicly available, a link to that decision is included in the docket search results.

Can I get a copy of the actual protest, pleadings, or other documents provided by the protestor or the agency?

We do not release documents while a protest is pending. After a protest is decided, you may request access to information, including redacted protests. You can request this information through our Freedom of Information Act process.

What happens after a protest has been filed?

If the protest is not dismissed for procedural reasons, the agency must, within 30 days of the filing of a protest, provide a report addressing the protest arguments. The protester must file comments responding to the agency report within 10 days of receiving the report (failure to file comments will result in dismissal of the protest). After the comment period, GAO may request additional filings from the parties, conduct alternative dispute resolution, or hold a hearing. For more information, see our Bid Protest Regulations (4 C.F.R. § 21.3), Bid Protests at GAO: a Descriptive Guide, and this timeline of a bid protest.

What is "corrective action"?

Corrective action is an agency’s voluntary decision to address an issue in response to a protest. Corrective action can occur at any time during a protest. An agency’s corrective action may involve a re-evaluation of proposals, a new award decision, an amendment to a solicitation, or other actions. We will typically dismiss a protest if an agency takes corrective action that resolves protest arguments or provides the relief sought by the protester.

What are the possible outcomes for a GAO protest?

A protest is concluded when it is "withdrawn" by the protester, "dismissed" by GAO because the protest had a technical or procedural flaw (such as lack of timeliness or jurisdiction) or because the agency takes corrective action that addresses the protest, "denied" by GAO because we found no merit to the protest, or "sustained" by GAO because we agree with the protest arguments.

What happens when GAO sustains a protest?

If we agree with a protester that the agency violated a procurement law or regulation in a prejudicial manner, we will issue a decision sustaining the protest and recommend that the agency address the violation through appropriate corrective action. The agency must then advise us whether it will comply with the recommendation.

How long does GAO take to decide a protest?

We must decide a protest within 100 calendar days. We always seek to issue a decision as far in advance of the 100-day deadline as possible.

What percentage of GAO decisions are dismissed, denied, and sustained?

We provide an annual report to Congress regarding the numbers of protests filed and the results of those protests. See our Bid Protest Annual Reports.

Waiting for a Bid Protest Decision?
Does GAO make its decisions publicly available?

It depends on what the decision was: We make public decisions that deny or sustain a protest and dismissals that address a significant issue. We do not make public routine dismissals of protests.

How quickly are bid protest decisions released?

Decisions are generally released to the public shortly after the bid protest parties are informed, unless the decision needs redacting.

What is redacting? How long does it take?

When a decision contains protected information, a decision may not be released to the public immediately due to the need to prepare a “redacted” version, which omits protected information. A redacted version is generally available 2 to 3 weeks after bid protest parties are informed of the outcome of the protest.

When does GAO make its protest decisions publicly available?

It depends on whether the decision is subject to a protective order or not: If a decision is not subject to a protective order, it will usually be available on this Web site within 1-2 days. If a decision is subject to a protective order, the parties must agree to the release of a public version that redacts proprietary or source-selection-sensitive information. The preparation of a public version of a protected decision may take between a few days and a few weeks; however, occasionally, a decision may not be made public for months if other events, such as corrective action, would be affected by the release of the decision.

What kinds of redactions does GAO make to a decision?

We seek to issue decisions that provide meaningful and transparent explanations for our rulings. Even if a protective order is issued for a protest, information in the public version of a protected decision will be redacted only where it is proprietary or is source-selection-sensitive. For example, evaluation point scores and adjectival ratings, unfavorable or adverse past performance information, and total cost or price generally will not be redacted from a decision.

Where can I find a protest decision?

You can search our bid protest decisions here. You can also find our decisions through outside commercial services such as Westlaw and Lexis.

I know a protest has been decided, why can’t I find the decision?

It depends on what the outcome was: If a protest is dismissed, we will not make the decision publicly available, unless it addresses a significant issue.

If a protest is sustained or denied, you should find the decision on this Web site within 1-2 days after the decision date. If you don't find it, then we are preparing a redacted version which will be made public when available. (See "When does GAO make its decisions publicly available?" above.)

What does the date on a decision mean?

The date is when the decision was finalized and the protesters were informed. It may be earlier than the date the decision is made publicly available.