The first rule is not to protest unless the government has violated an acquisition regulation. The most common violation is the government’s failure to follow the announced evaluation factors.
The second rule is to move fast.
After you find out you lost the award, you must request a debriefing, in writing, within 3 calendar days. If the last day falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline is the next business day and this is true of all the calendar day calculation rules. (Insist that the government adhere strictly to the requirements of FAR 15.506.) You then have 10 calendar days after the debriefing to file a protest at GAO. If you don’t ask for a debriefing, you have 10 calendar days after notification of award to protest to GAO.
When the government receives notice of a protest from GAO (be sure GAO promptly provides this notice), within 10 calendar days after award or within 5 days after a debriefing, whichever is later, the contracting officer must immediately suspend performance on the awarded contract. Notice the rule here is 10 days after award, not 10 days after you receive notice of the award. This is another reason to request the debriefing to allow time for imposition of the automatic suspension of performance pending GAO’s decision on the protest. Note also the rule is 5 days after debriefing for suspension of performance.
If you miss these deadlines, you are out of luck in protesting at GAO. However, if you act with reasonable promptness, you can still protest at the Court of Federal Claims (COFC). In fact, you can get a second bite at the apple at the COFC even if you lose at GAO. The COFC has disagreed with GAO on several occasions.
Suspension of performance can be overridden by the head of the contracting activity, on a non-delegable basis if urgent and compelling circumstances that significantly affect the interests of the government will not permit waiting for the GAO decision or contract performance is in the best interests of the government. The resumption of contract performance, however, can be challenged in the COFC in an action testing the propriety of the decision to override the suspension of performance. In a good number of these cases, the COFC has disagreed with the government.
If your grounds for protest involve the propriety of language in the solicitation, you already are too late. Those protests much be sent to GAO before the time for submission of bids.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO REMEMBER ALL OF THIS. JUST HEED THIS WARNING THAT THESE TIME LIMITS ARE STRICTLY ENFORCED AND YOU MUST MOVE QUICKLY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY WANT TO PROTEST.