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The RFP/Bid Protest Letter

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Also known as: RFP award protest letter, contract award protest letter, federal procurement protest letter, bid award protest letter, FAR 33.1 protest, protest letters, rejection response letter, small business 8(a) protest letter, protesting 8a award, pre-award protest, post-award protest, generic protest letter, protest writing, complain letter, gvt procurement protest letter, plaintiff letter, RFP response letter, bid protest letter, RFP protest letter, award protest letter, federal bid protest letter, letters protesting contracts, letter to complain, GAO protest letter, procurement protest letter, GAO bid protest letter, RFP protest, bid protest, solicitation protest letter, federal government solicitation protest letter, source selection protest letter, FAR 33.1 bid protest letter, FAR 33.1 RFP protest letter, letter to protest against award, FAR 15.507 protest letter, Government Accountability Office protest letter, diplomatic protest letter, procurement protest, solicitation protest, professional protests, letter to protesting, rejection protest letter, federal bid protest, letter in response to rejection, federal government bid protest, professional protest letter, tactful protest letter, tactful letter, letter of complaint, or procurement complaint letter.

FREE Protest Letter Template

Use the templates and samples provided in your FREE RFP Letters Toolkit to create your own protest letter, and any other letter or document related to a solicitation and selection process based on a:

What is a Protest Letter?

Protest Letter Definition

In the solicitation and selection context, a protest letter is a letter sent by a prospective provider who is aggrieved in connection with the RFP/IFB/ITB/ITT specifications, the solicitation process, or award of the contract and would like to file a protest.

Handling RFP protest letters sent by prospective contractors is a process that acquirers manage within the acquisition life cycle as defined in an acquisition plan template worthy of the name.

Protest Letter Grounds & Guidelines

The protest must be specific, factual, substantiated, and timely. To be deemed so, the protest has to follow strict rules, otherwise it will automatically be dismissed. Notwithstanding such procedures specified directly in the document setting forth the requirements, external regulations may apply, i.e. the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) in the context of a government contract for instance.

The scope of the grounds of the RFP protest letter is limited to errors related to proper proposal scoring, violation of law or procedures set forth in the RFP, conflict of interest, partiality or discrimination. No protest may be filed if the RFP is cancelled or if all proposals received in response to the RFP are rejected.

Solicitation and Selection Process Debriefing

Before a contract is, eventually, awarded, bids and proposals are evaluated, compared, and the best offer, if any, is selected.

Like any other provider whose offer was excluded or otherwise eliminated from the competitive range whether before of after award, you may ask the people responsible for handling procurement, namely the Contracting Officer (CO), for a debriefing (Competitive Range in Source Selection, FAR §15.306(c)-4). It is the unique occasion to get some feedback on the reasons that hampered your organization from being awarded the contract, and, eventually, how you could improve your future submissions in order to increase you chance to win. It is one of the chief efficient ways of improving your win ration.

FAR stands for Federal Acquisition Regulation. Written under the authority of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), it is the document that sets forth procurement procedures and guidelines for federal agencies. FAR makes a distinction between pre- and post-award debriefing sessions:

  1. Pre-award debriefing of offeror (Notifications, FAR §15.505)
    Offerors excluded from the competitive range or otherwise excluded from the competition before award may request a debriefing before award (10 U.S.C. 2305(b)(6)(A) and 41 U.S.C. 253b(f) - (h)).
      1. The offeror may request a pre-award debriefing by submitting a written request for debriefing to the contracting officer within 3 days after receipt of the notice of exclusion from the competition.

      2. At the offeror's request, the pre-award debriefing may be delayed until after award. If the debriefing is delayed until after award, it shall include all information normally provided in a post-award debriefing (see 15.506(d)). Debriefings delayed pursuant to this paragraph could affect the timeliness of any protest filed subsequent to the debriefing.

      3. If the offeror does not submit a timely request, the offeror need not be given either a pre-award or a post-award debriefing. Offerors are entitled to no more than one debriefing for each proposal.

    1. The contracting officer shall make every effort to debrief the unsuccessful offeror as soon as practicable, but may refuse the request for a debriefing if, for compelling reasons, it is not in the best interests of the Government to conduct a debriefing at that time. The rationale for delaying the debriefing shall be documented in the contract file. If the contracting officer delays the debriefing, it shall be provided no later than the time post-award debriefings are provided under 15.506. In that event, the contracting officer shall include the information at 15.506(d) in the debriefing.

    2. Debriefings may be done orally, in writing, or by any other method acceptable to the contracting officer.

    3. The contracting officer should normally chair any debriefing session held. Individuals who conducted the evaluations shall provide support.

    4. At a minimum, pre-award debriefings shall include:

      1. The agency's evaluation of significant elements in the offeror's proposal;

      2. A summary of the rationale for eliminating the offeror from the competition; and

      3. Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed in the process of eliminating the offeror from the competition.

    5. Pre-award debriefings shall not disclose:

      1. The number of offerors;

      2. The identity of other offerors;

      3. The content of other offerors' proposals;

      4. The ranking of other offerors;

      5. The evaluation of other offerors; or

      6. Any of the information prohibited in 15.506(e).

    6. An official summary of the pre-award debriefing shall be included in the contract file.

  2. Post-award debriefing of offeror (Notifications, FAR §15.505)
      1. An offeror, upon its written request received by the agency within 3 days after the date on which that offeror has received notification of contract award in accordance with 15.503(b), shall be debriefed and furnished the basis for the selection decision and contract award.

      2. To the maximum extent practicable, the debriefing should occur within 5 days after receipt of the written request. Offerors that requested a post-award debriefing in lieu of a pre-award debriefing, or whose debriefing was delayed for compelling reasons beyond contract award, also should be debriefed within this time period.

      3. An offeror that was notified of exclusion from the competition (see 15.505(a)), but failed to submit a timely request, is not entitled to a debriefing.

        1. Untimely debriefing requests may be accommodated.

        2. Government accommodation of a request for delayed debriefing pursuant to 15.505(a)(2), or any untimely debriefing request, does not automatically extend the deadlines for filing protests. Debriefings delayed pursuant to 15.505(a)(2) could affect the timeliness of any protest filed subsequent to the debriefing.

    1. Debriefings of successful and unsuccessful offerors may be done orally, in writing, or by any other method acceptable to the contracting officer.

    2. The contracting officer should normally chair any debriefing session held. Individuals who conducted the evaluations shall provide support.

    3. At a minimum, the debriefing information shall include:

      1. The Government's evaluation of the significant weaknesses or deficiencies in the offeror's proposal, if applicable;

      2. The overall evaluated cost or price (including unit prices) and technical rating, if applicable, of the successful offeror and the debriefed offeror, and past performance information on the debriefed offeror;

      3. The overall ranking of all offerors, when any ranking was developed by the agency during the source selection;

      4. A summary of the rationale for award;

      5. For acquisitions of commercial items, the make and model of the item to be delivered by the successful offeror; and

      6. Reasonable responses to relevant questions about whether source selection procedures contained in the solicitation, applicable regulations, and other applicable authorities were followed.

    4. The debriefing shall not include point-by-point comparisons of the debriefed offeror's proposal with those of other offerors. Moreover, the debriefing shall not reveal any information prohibited from disclosure by 24.202 or exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552) including:

      1. Trade secrets;

      2. Privileged or confidential manufacturing processes and techniques;

      3. Commercial and financial information that is privileged or confidential, including cost breakdowns, profit, indirect cost rates, and similar information; and

      4. The names of individuals providing reference information about an offeror's past performance.

    5. An official summary of the debriefing shall be included in the contract file.

Protest After Award

How long after the contract award could you file a protest? Is there any deadline to protest?

The Federal Acquisition Regulation makes a distinction between a protest filed directly to the agency and a protest filed to the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Protests to the Agency

FAR 33.103(f)-3 (Action upon receipt of protest to the Agency) delineates policies and procedures for filling a protest to the agency directly:

  1. Protests to the Agency
    1. Action upon receipt of protest
      1. Upon receipt of a protest within 10 days after contract award or within 5 days after a debriefing date offered to the protester under a timely debriefing request in accordance with 15.505 or 15.506, whichever is later, the contracting officer shall immediately suspend performance, pending resolution of the protest within the agency, including any review by an independent higher level official, unless continued performance is justified, in writing, for urgent and compelling reasons or is determined, in writing, to be in the best interest of the Government. Such justification or determination shall be approved at a level above the contracting officer, or by another official pursuant to agency procedures.

Protests filed to the General Accounting Office (GAO)

FAR ยง33.104(c) (Protests after award to GAO) describes policies and procedures for filling a protest to the GAO after the award has been made:

  1. Protests after award (Protests to GAO), FAR 33.104(c):
    1. When the agency receives notice of a protest from the GAO within 10 days after contract award or within 5 days after a debriefing date offered to the protester for any debriefing that is required by 15.505 or 15.506, whichever is later, the contracting officer shall immediately suspend performance or terminate the awarded contract, except as provided in paragraphs (c)(2) and (3) of this section.
       
    2. In accordance with agency procedures, the head of the contracting activity may, on a nondelegable basis, authorize contract performance, notwithstanding the protest, upon a written finding that:
      1. Contract performance will be in the best interests of the United States; or
      2. Urgent and compelling circumstances that significantly affect the interests of the United States will not permit waiting for the GAO's decision.
         
    3. Contract performance shall not be authorized until the agency has notified the GAO of the finding in paragraph (c)(2) of this section.
       
    4. When it is decided to suspend performance or terminate the awarded contract, the contracting officer should attempt to negotiate a mutual agreement on a no-cost basis.
       
    5. When the agency receives notice of a protest filed with the GAO after the dates contained in paragraph (c)(1), the contracting officer need not suspend contract performance or terminate the awarded contract unless the contracting officer believes that an award may be invalidated and a delay in receiving the supplies or services is not prejudicial to the Government's interest.

Writing a Protest Letter

A protest or complaint need not be nasty, or too vigorous, but instead diplomatic and tactful enough to encourage change by taking into account the suggested or requested action.

It is highly recommended to read the recommendations below in order to properly and successfully use the RFP protest letter.

  1. Use a formal letterhead and do not handwrite the RFP protest letter. Use templates and samples provided in your FREE RFP Letters Toolkit to create your own protest letter.
     
  2. First, specify the precise action or decision being protested, and describe how you, as a prospective provider, have been or would be affected by or aggrieved with this action or decision.
     
  3. Next, you have to prove and clearly state in your RFP protest letter that the evaluation, comparison, and selection process is obviously erroneous, arbitrary, or contrary to the process defined in the RFP or even to law. Indeed, as long as the person responsible for evaluating the proposals follows the requirements set forth in the RFP, all proposals are considered fairly and in good faith.

    Solely stating that your proposal is better than others is a fruitless claim. Faulting to give substance to your protest by a preponderance of evidences, your claim will be considered as a mere groundless allegation, and your RFP protest letter will be thusly dismissed.
     

  4. Suggest or request a specific action to be taken.
     
  5. Finally, close the letter formally with "sincerely" or a similar polite expression. Sign your name and title. Be sure to provide correct, complete contact and reference information for future correspondence. 
     
  6. Do not forget to send the RFP protest letter via certified mail
     
  7. Since things sometimes get a little more complicated than usual, remember to consult a lawyer for further information before doing anything.

Protest Web References

Protests Against Award (Sealed Bidding)
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), §14.408.8
This subpart contains procedures for the receipt, handling, opening, and disposition of bids including mistakes in bids, and subsequent award of contracts.

Protests Against Award (Contracting by Negotiation)
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), §15.507
This part prescribes policies and procedures governing competitive and noncompetitive negotiated acquisitions. A contract awarded using other than sealed bidding procedures is a negotiated contract.

Protests (Protests, Disputes, and Appeals)
Federal Acquisition Regulation
(FAR), §33.1
This part of the FAR prescribes policies and procedures for filing protests (pre-award protest, and post-award protest) and for processing contract disputes and appeals.

Competitive Range (Source Selection)
Federal Acquisition Regulation
(FAR), §15.306(c)-4
This subpart prescribes policies and procedures for selection of a source or sources in competitive negotiated acquisitions.

Pre-award debriefing of offeror (Notifications)
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), §15.505

Post-award debriefing of offeror (Notifications)
Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), §15.506

Bid Protests at GAO: A Descriptive Guide
Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Tips, templates, and samples of a professional RFP protest letter

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