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  • Writer's pictureR.D. Lieberman,Consultant

Government Accountability Office Sustain and Effectiveness Rates in 2020

The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released its annual bid protest report to the Congress for fiscal year 2020 on December 23, 2020 (B-158766). The GAO actually received 2,149 protests in fiscal year (“FY”) 2020 but dismissed or immediately denied or dismissed a substantial number of them, while actually considering and issuing decisions on 545 protests, known as “merit decisions.” This was a small decrease compared to FY 2019.

The GAO sustain rate increased two percent, from 13 percent in FY 2019 to 15 percent in FY 2020.

The other key GAO bid protest statistics for fiscal years 2016-2020 were as follows:

GAO Bid Protest Statistics for Fiscal Years 2016-2020

FY2016 FY2017 FY 2018 FY 2019 FY 2020

Merit decisions 616 581 622 587 545

Sustained 139 99 92 77 84

Sustain Rate 23% 17% 15% 13% 15%

Effectiveness Rate 46% 47% 44% 44% 51%

Alt. Dispute Resolution

(ADR) cases 69 81 86 40 124

ADR Success Rate 84% 90% 77% 90% 82%

No. of hearings in cases 27 17 5 21 9

Hearings (%) 2.5% 2% 0.5% 2% 1%

The “effectiveness rate” increase somewhat, from about 44 percent in 2019 to 51 percent in 2020. These are protests where the protester obtains some form of relief from the agency, either as a result of voluntary agency corrective action or the protest being sustained.

The percentage of cases where the GAO conducted a hearing remained small—generally only 1 or 2 percent of the cases.

GAO also reported that:

· There were no instances in which a federal agency did not fully implement a GAO recommendation in FY 2020; and

· GAO issued its decision on every protest within 100 days, as required by law.

Finally, the GAO reported on the most prevalent reasons for sustaining protests that were actually resolved on the merits in FY 2020. These were:

1. Unreasonable technical evaluation

2. Flawed solicitation

3. Unreasonable cost or price evaluation and

4. Unreasonable past performance evaluation.

The GAO also noted that a significant number of protests it received did not reach a decision on the merits because agencies voluntarily took corrective action rather than defend the protest on the merits. Agencies need not and do not report any of the many reasons they decide to take voluntary corrective actions.

For other helpful suggestions on government contracting, visit:

Richard D. Lieberman’s FAR Consulting & Training at, and Mistakes in Government Contracting at

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