RFPs and Filing Ethical Protests

ndbm_rfplayoutWith all the twists and turns the economy has taken over the past few years many of the states have switched to an RFP format for distribution of government block grants. This is causing a lot of problems as agencies who have excelled at meeting grant requirements before are now confronted with a process driven by purchasing departments. This has led to a rise in ethical protest filings. That doesn’t always work in your favor. If you file a protest without grounds you could get excluded from the process.

What is an ethical protest?

There are many protests you can file before, during and after an RFP award. An ethical protest says that your agency believes there was a violation of the ethics of the state and federal agencies funding the RFP. When a protest is filed, the process of the award (whatever stage it may be in) is shut down until the protest is resolved. Some states have time limits on the resolution set and transparent processes for hearing evidence. Other states maintain a closed process with no time limit. This means you have to know if you really have grounds before filing or it could close down the monies indefinitely.

When do you have grounds?

This can be tricky. Ethical violations during the RFP process are more common than you think, but that doesn’t mean more RFP awards are given unethically. There is a standard process of resolution that has to be pursued before you need to file a legal process. Here is the catch, if the ethics violation is resolved you cannot also then file a protest.

An example to learn from

For instance, during the course of an RFP application the state returned to applicants after the submission date to request more information from some applicants. This is a clear ethical violation and the state agency was verbally challenged on it. The state reviewed the request and rescinded it within 14 days. Was it a violation? Yes, but the parties resolved it within 14 days of its occurrence. Under most states it is considered resolved. The agency that brought the violation to the state’s attention then filed a formal legal complaint on the 17th day and shut down the RFP process for review. When they came back, they found that the issue had been resolved, the formal complaint was unnecessary and excluded the filing agency for obstructing the RFP process with gratuitous filings.