The General Accountability Office (“GAO”) has joined the electronic filing club for bid protests. All new protests after May 1, 2018 are required to be filed and administered using GAO’s new Electronic Protest Docketing System (“EPDS”). The only exceptions are for protests containing classified material and documents that cannot be uploaded due to size or format reasons. P&A has had a number of protests under the new system and we’ve found it to be pretty user friendly.
EPDS can be accessed at https://epds.gao.gov. Assuming you’ve registered to use the system – a painless online process – filing a new protest takes only a few minutes if you have any exhibits incorporated into a single .pdf with the protest letter. You simply type in the protester’s name, size status (for statistical purposes), address, solicitation number, and agency information. Then you upload the protest and any associated documents, indicating whether they contain any proprietary, confidential, or other information not releasable to the public.
One unwelcome feature of EPDS is the new $350 filing fee, but it is quickly and easily submitted by credit card, PayPal, or Dwolla account via a temporary redirect to the pay.gov website. After payment, the system will generate a receipt by e-mail.
A nice benefit of the system is that it automatically generates an e-mail to the procuring agency notifying it that a new protest has been filed, fulfilling GAO’s responsibility under 31 U.S.C. § 3553(b)(1). Since the timing of entitlement to an automatic stay is based on when the agency is notified, not when the protest is filed, and GAO has one day to notify the agency, last-day protests normally had to be filed early to allow time for the agency to receive notice from GAO. Now, that notice is immediate, so theoretically protests can be filed up to the closing time for the agency on the last day. Also, you no longer need to call GAO to confirm that the agency has been timely notified. Note, however, that you must still furnish a copy of the protest separately to the contracting officer or other agency official designated to receive protests.
Also useful is the ability to see all the docket entries in a protest, so you can keep track of the status of protective order applications, objections, and admissions, and other filings.
Once the protest is underway, submission via EPDS takes the place of filing and notices by e-mail. General communication with the assigned GAO attorney or other counsel can still be done by e-mail, but formal submissions and responses are now done via EPDS. Since proper distribution of filings is automatic, the EPDS process is simpler and more foolproof than the old method of e-mailing to a potentially large group of attorneys. The system is customizable for alerts and e-mail preferences.
Of note is that proposed redactions of protected material are not to be filed in EPDS, but exchanged informally among counsel. Only the final, agreed, public versions of redacted documents are to be filed in EPDS. Any party-specific redacted versions are not to be filed in EPDS.
The filing procedure is very intuitive. The drop down menu of document choices is not very long, but appears comprehensive. There is no “Motion” option, but there is a “Request for” option that be used. The “Other ________” option can always fill in the gaps for any unusual filings.
Some attorneys have experiences a few bumps in the EPDS rollout. For instance, you may have to check your spam filter and adjust your settings if you are not receiving notices of filings as anticipated. But generally the system works well, and GAO’s website has helpful manuals to explain the whole EPDS procedure.
It may have taken GAO a little longer that some other fora to adopt electronic filing, but rest assured that EPDS will not have you pining for the days of anxiously waiting for the GAO automatic email response confirming receipt of your protest or filing protest documents at the window in the GAO lobby at 4th and G Street.