Federal Courts Overrule GAO and Require Reinstatement of Low Bidder

Contractors who file a bid protest challenging a federal contract award can do so in one of three forums: (1) the agency whose procurement decision is being challenged; (2) the Government Accountability Office ("GAO"); or (3) the Court of Federal Claims ("COFC"). Many federal contractors choose to file protests with the GAO because the GAO represents the middle ground between an agency-level protest and a COFC protest. Typically, a protestor wants to avoid filing a protest in the very agency whose conduct is being protested and wants to avoid the time an expense of filing a protest with the COFC. Additionally, although GAO decisions are non-binding, they have almost always been fully implemented by the Contracting Officer ("CO") of the applicable agency and have traditionally been given a high level of deference by the COFC. However, a case decided by the COFC this past year may signal the deterioration of high deference afforded to GAO decisions.

In Turner Construction Co., Inc. v United States, 645 F.3d 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2011) ("Turner II"), the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the Court of Federal Claims' ("COFC") decision in Turner Construction Co., Inc. v. United States, 94 Fed.Cl. 561 (2010) ("Turner I") that a GAO bid protest recommendation was irrational. The COFC held that the GAO's recommendation that Turner Construction Co. ("Turner") be disqualified as the awardee on the basis of organizational conflicts of interest ("OCI") under an Army hospital renovation contract was unreasonable.

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