Buy Lines: Bid protest? Forget about it

In this era of best value and creative new approaches, who really bids in the traditional sense anymore? And who believes they can establish a long-term, win-win relationship by first clobbering their potential partner in a bitter round of litigation?

There are rare moments when the contractor's rights and the government's interest and commitment to fairness dictate the need for a formal protest resolution. Nevertheless, if a company sees a protest as its best course of action, it may have already lost the battle.

Most protests don't result in a General Accounting Office decision. Less than 25 percent get that far, and of that number only 16 percent are ruled in favor of the protester. Most protests are withdrawn long before the decision stage. Others are determined to fall outside of GAO's jurisdiction or are dismissed. Many are resolved through the alternate dispute resolution process.

As a result of all of these activities, it turns out that in 2002, roughly one in 28, or 3.6 percent, of those protests received at GAO actually resulted in a ruling favoring the contractor.

With odds like that, it would seem the time and money involved in unsuccessfully pursuing most of these cases would be better spent developing a more effective marketing approach or pursuing other government clients.

A protest, or the threat of one, can get an agency's attention. A particularly frustrated vendor filing for that purpose might enjoy a brief moment of accomplishment -- if that's its objective. The vendor has that right, after all, as well as the right to expect no future repercussions, in a legal sense. Agencies are obligated by law to act accordingly.

Still, there's the potential for a chill to be created. Although perhaps never measurable, this can contribute to long-term, damaged relations with the affected agency.

A far better and more enlightened approach would be to recognize the realities involved in the government's new ways of doing business.

Contractors must establish professional working relationships with government agency personnel as part of doing business. They must know their clients' strategic objectives, mission needs, constraints and personnel.

The trend toward more commercial practices involves a higher level of customer relationship management than in the past. If there are problems or disputes, they should be resolved in this context. Therefore, expanded use of the alternate dispute resolution process is better than the traditional protest mechanism.

Companies must recognize that the broader use of schedules and government-wide contracts will reduce opportunities for protest. In fact, the numbers over the past few years are down from 1999 levels. This is offset by the increased savings in bid and proposal costs, which are realized when lead times and the acquisition process are greatly streamlined.

The same is true of so-called advisory down-select processes, which notify companies early in the evaluation phase that their solutions are unlikely to be selected.

Those who accept these realities have a tremendous opportunity to build bridges to future business by requesting and taking part in detailed agency debriefings. The value of a well-done debriefing far exceeds the value of a protest. It's also faster and less costly.

Finally, if you want a good reputation as a partner with government, take the protest option off the table before the debriefing. You'll earn respect and credibility for a long-term professional relationship and, hopefully, more business in the long run. *

Bob Dickson is a principal with Acquisition

Solutions Inc. His e-mail address is bob.dickson@

acqsolinc.com.

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