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| 1 minute read

Protest POV: Document access controls can end up controlling your fate in competitions (and at GAO)

In a recent decision, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) denied a protest challenging the Army’s elimination of protester, SOS International, LLC (SOSI), from an Army task order competition after the agency was unable to access SOSI’s subcontractor’s pricing spreadsheet which had electronic file access restrictions. During its compliance review of SOSI’s proposal, the Army attempted but could not open or view the spreadsheet—which had been submitted directly to the agency by the subcontractor—because the file required access permissions that the Army didn’t have. For this reason, the agency asserted, and GAO agreed, SOSI did not provide an accessible pricing spreadsheet for its subcontractor, thus failing to satisfy the solicitation’s requirement that offerors provide fully functional spreadsheets. GAO rejected the protester’s argument that it should have been notified about the issue and allowed to resubmit an accessible spreadsheet under FAR 15.207(c).  According to SOSI, the file was rendered “unreadable” due to “damage” incurred when the file was electronically transmitted to the Army. Both FAR 15.207(c) and the terms of the solicitation required such notice and an opportunity to resubmit damaged, unreadable proposal contents. But GAO found that neither applied here since (1) the cited FAR part 15 provision was not expressly included in the solicitation, and therefore, did not apply to this FAR part 16 procurement, (2) the file access restrictions were applied to the spreadsheet by the subcontractor’s own information technology (IT) systems, and (3) the Army’s inability to access the spreadsheet wasn’t the result of any “damage” caused during transmittal. Based on these findings, GAO concluded that the agency reasonably eliminated SOSI’s proposal from the competition due to the subcontractor’s (and ultimately SOSI’s) failure to provide the requisite file access permissions. 

POV: Offerors and their proposed subcontractors should be sure to either remove or provide the agency with passwords for any file access restrictions—including automated IT system controls—in their proposal documents, or risk elimination from the competition. 


bid protests, government contracts