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The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has filed its annual bid protest report for fiscal 2016, and the numbers tell a surprising story. Whereas the last couple years have seen the number of protests continue to rise—thanks to more companies fighting for shrinking contracting dollars—the rate at which the protests are sustained has understandably declined. More protests often means more companies grasping at straws. But in 2016 while the number of protests filed rose by 6% over 2015, the sustain rate jumped from 12% to 22.5%, a significant leap as the number of protests more than doubled from 68 to 139 in one year.

The reason behind the rise in the number of sustainments is unclear. There’s nothing in the report on why there was such a spike, nor is it necessarily in the purview of the report to speculate on it. According to GAO, the most prevalent reasons for sustained protests were “unreasonable technical evaluation, unreasonable past performance evaluation, unreasonable cost or price evaluation, and flawed selection decision.” GAO doesn’t provide data as to what percentage of complaints are spurred by any of the above reasons (i.e. was “unreasonable technical evaluation” the most prevalent allegation, or was it simply the most successful category for sustainments?).

Another interesting point to consider is that the “effectiveness rate” of protests largely remained unchanged, 46% this year compared to 45% last year (though both of those are up from the 42% of 2012, and 39% of 2006, ten years ago. Effectiveness rate essentially means the protester received some relief, either from corrective action taken by the agency or GAO sustaining the protest. So while the spike in the sustain rate is surprising, the effectiveness of filing a protest has effectively remained unchanged from last year to this year.

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