Just Lost a Bid and Want to Protest? Read This First!

December 13, 2023 | Government

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Losing a bid can evoke negative emotions such as sadness, anger, rejection, and fear. These feelings may drive us to make irrational decisions both in our personal and professional lives. However, in the realm of government contracting, it can be beneficial to ask questions about why we failed to win the bid. It’s recommended that companies gather as much information as possible regarding how the government evaluated their offer. This will help them to improve their response to future opportunities. Unfortunately, sometimes instead of learning from the experience, we tend to look for inconsistencies in the evaluation process. We may even question the awardee’s small business status or assert that they cannot perform the work for the price they proposed.

The Downside of Protesting Awards

“I have been in similar situations before. I have written or been involved in over a dozen protests, and I can honestly say that, as a result of all the time it took to protest an award and the contracting offices I’ve alienated, we only won the bid once, and the award was a meager $37,301.25. In most cases, the RFQ/RFP was never rereleased, even if we didn’t technically lose a protest, meaning neither the agency nor the GAO denied it. Sometimes it was released again, but we still didn’t win on other grounds. The bottom line is that it wasn’t worth the time or being labeled as the company that protests everything. Unfortunately, one of my clients was labeled as such, but we’re finally moving away from that reputation.”


Effective Debriefing Strategies

As I’ve grown older and hopefully wiser, I’ve learned to use my time wisely by focusing on learning more from a debriefing rather than trying to catch the government in a mistake. Sometimes, the government may decline to provide an oral debriefing in order to avoid more scrutiny. They are only required to provide a written debriefing, as per the FAR. The decision to provide an oral debriefing is completely up to the contracting officer and can be very helpful to the losing contractor.


It is recommended to request an informal debriefing session with the awarding company, where they can discuss the evaluation process in detail and answer any questions you may have regarding their decision. This approach can help you gain valuable insights into your bid and identify areas for improvement, without coming across as critical or confrontational. By engaging in a constructive dialogue with the evaluators, you can learn from their feedback and increase your chances of success in future bids.


Handling Unfair Evaluations:

“What if the evaluation was unfair? Let’s say you submitted a proposal that was the best value bid, but the contracting office chose the lowest price bid by 20%. You happen to know that the contractor they chose has a reputation for providing mediocre products or services. Moreover, they have multiple contracts with this customer. You could protest, but in my experience, if the contracting office wants a specific contractor, they will find a way to get them. So, if you are not satisfied with how the contracting officer evaluates your proposals, it is best to move on. There are over 3000 contracting offices in the Federal government. You can find another one that buys what you sell and work with them. 

Building a Positive Relationship with Government Agencies

If you want to position YOUR COMPANY as the vendor the government wants to work with, there are two things you can do. First, start building a relationship with them by showing them that you can solve their problems. You should have conversations with them well before an RFP is even released. Don’t just show them in a proposal submission. Second, once you do win some work from them, make their life easy with that contract. Be that contractor the customer wants and the bid is “wired” for.


Launching a protest may provide a sense of satisfaction and empowerment, but in government sales, the ultimate goal is to win business rather than act as the procurement police. Hence, I suggest focusing more on activities that can help in becoming the preferred contractor and win business rather than forcing an agency to award a contract. By working hard and providing solutions, we can communicate our willingness to collaborate, while demanding a contract may come across as entitled and bitter.

When to Consider Filing a Protest

There may be situations in which filing a protest could be a sensible business decision. Note that I used the phrase “sensible” intentionally. Most of these scenarios are going to be specific to your bid in question as well as other factors so it’s hard to speculate in general when it is smart to file a protest. You should never file a protest simply because you feel slighted by the customer or are envious of the company that was awarded the contract. If you have to take time to “count to 100” before making the decision, do it! You have some time before you have to make that decision. Surround yourself with people who will give you sound advice. Regardless if it makes business sense, it is important to weigh the pros and cons before proceeding with a protest, as it can still be a risky move.

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MYTH: Government agencies always award contracts based on price alone. Lowest price always wins.

FACT: While some contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, government agencies also make awards based on the best value which includes trade-offs between the ability to perform the work, quality, past performance, and price.