Government agencies have been attempting to move forward with normal operations despite the shift in focus caused by COVID-19. In addition to emergency contracting measures that governments are utilizing for COVID-19-related goods and services, local governments are attempting to continue procurement processes for contracts that were in the pipeline prior to the outbreak. Because all of the services that local governments provide are essential, these governments are continuing regular business in order to avoid further crises down the road. As long as procurement processes are continued, the government will inevitably need a plan to deal with bid protests.
This means that local governments, like Miami-Dade County, that typically handle bid protests before hearing officers in in-person hearings, need to adapt. The Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, which handles bid protests for state agencies, already has the option of a telephonic hearing system with which its administrative law judges hear bid protests. In light of COVID-19, the Chief Judge of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings issued an Administrative Order requiring all of these hearings to occur telephonically or over video, or otherwise be continued. The Eleventh Judicial Circuit will also be using Zoom to hold hearings in “virtual courtrooms.”
Miami-Dade County has already held its first Board of County Commissioners meeting over Zoom. Now it, as well as other jurisdictions, must consider adapting this technology to the bid protest context, taking cues from the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. This will, to the extent possible, prevent disruption to routine procurement operations and, as a result, the disruption of important government services.