Litigating bid protest for lack of meaningful discussions when bidding with the federal government is still an ongoing problem. When contractors receive debriefings, they sometimes find that GAO Protest Rules Meaningful Discussions in a FAR Protestdiscussions held were far from meaningful.

A bid protest alleging lack of meaningful discussions must be approached carefully since many agencies attempt to cloud discussions with clarifications.

GAO can sustain a bid protest where, notwithstanding an agency’s characterization of its exchanges with the protester as clarifications, the agency failed to conduct meaningful discussions but failed to identify a deficiency associated with your proposal. 

How Do GAO and Court of Federal Claims Review Bid Protests Alleging Improper Meaningful Discussions?

The Court of Federal Claims (COFC) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) play important roles in evaluating bid protest cases for meaningful discussions under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Here’s a general overview of how these entities evaluate bid protest cases:

1. COFC:
– Jurisdiction: The COFC has jurisdiction over bid protests filed by disappointed bidders after the contract award. It evaluates protests based on the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) standards and FAR provisions.
– Review of Agency Actions: The COFC reviews the agency’s actions during the procurement process to determine if they were arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law.
– Scope of Review: The COFC examines whether the agency conducted meaningful discussions with offerors as required by the FAR. It looks at whether the discussions were fair, open, and provided the offerors with a reasonable opportunity to revise their proposals.
– Remedy: If the COFC finds that meaningful discussions did not occur, it may recommend corrective actions to the agency, such as reopening discussions or conducting a new procurement process.

2. GAO:
– Bid Protest Forum: The GAO serves as the primary bid protest forum and provides an independent and impartial review of protests filed by interested parties before or after contract award.
– Timeliness: Protests must be filed within specific timeframes, which differ based on whether they are pre-award or post-award protests. Timeliness is a critical factor in GAO’s evaluation.
– Evaluation Standards: GAO applies a “competitive prejudice” standard. It assesses whether the alleged procurement errors had a significant impact on the protester’s chances of receiving the award. The GAO does not require a showing of bad faith on the part of the agency.
– Review of Discussions: GAO evaluates whether discussions between the agency and offerors were meaningful. It examines if the discussions were sufficiently detailed and addressed deficiencies or weaknesses in proposals, allowing offerors an opportunity to improve their proposals.
– Recommendations: If GAO sustains a protest, it may recommend that the agency take corrective action, such as reopening discussions or conducting a new procurement. However, the agency ultimately has the discretion to decide whether to follow the recommendation.

It’s important to note that the specifics of evaluating bid protests can vary based on the unique circumstances of each case and the applicable regulations and laws. Legal representation and expertise are essential when pursuing bid protests before the COFC or the GAO.

This was the case in Kardex Remstar, LLC, B-409030 (Jan. 17, 2014): One lesson from this protest is that government contractors must be aware of discussion requirements in FSS bids. GAO noted that the procedures of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) part 15 governing contracting by negotiation–including those concerning exchanges with offerors after receipt of proposals–do not govern competitive procurements under the FSS program. FAR 8.404(a)

GAO reaffirmed that there is no requirement in FAR Part 8.4 that an agency conduct discussions with vendors. Conversely,  exchanges that do occur with vendors in FAR Part 8.4 procurement, like all other aspects of such a procurement, must be fair and equitable. In this FAR protest, GAO looked to the standards in FAR part 15 for guidance in making this determination.

FAR 15.306(d) – Discussions:

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provision that pertains to meaningful discussions is found in FAR 15.306(d). This provision outlines the requirements and principles related to conducting discussions with offerors during a negotiated procurement process. Here is an overview of the relevant section:

1. Purpose: The purpose of discussions is to allow the contracting officer (CO) to indicate to offerors the areas in their proposals requiring revision, clarification, or amplification.
2. Conducting Discussions: The CO is responsible for conducting meaningful discussions with all offerors within the competitive range, or those whose proposals have a reasonable chance of being selected for award.
3. Open Communication: Discussions should be frank, open, and fair, ensuring that offerors understand the agency’s concerns and can respond adequately.
4. Areas for Revision: The CO must address deficiencies and significant weaknesses that can be corrected to enhance the offeror’s potential for award.
5. Written or Oral: Discussions may be conducted orally or in writing, depending on the circumstances. However, the CO must keep a record of the discussions, including the substance of the exchange.
6. Fair Opportunity: Offerors must be given the opportunity to revise their proposals in response to the discussions. However, they are not obligated to revise their proposals.
7. Revisions: Offerors may be permitted to submit proposal revisions after discussions, and the CO must establish a common cutoff date for submission.
8. Reopening Discussions: If discussions lead to changes in the solicitation’s terms, the CO may need to reopen discussions with offerors to ensure fairness and allow for revised proposals.

FAR 15.306(d) emphasizes the importance of conducting meaningful discussions with offerors in a fair and open manner. The provision ensures that offerors are given the opportunity to address deficiencies and weaknesses in their proposals to enhance their chances of receiving the award. It also underscores the need for clear communication and documentation throughout the discussion process.

What are Clarifications Versus Meaningful Discussions Under GAO and COFC Bid Protest Rules?


FAR 15 suggests that clarifications are as “limited exchanges” that agencies may use to allow offerors to clarify certain aspects of their proposals or to resolve minor or clerical mistakes. See FAR § 15.306(a)(2).

In the context of a bid protest, the distinction between meaningful discussions and clarifications is significant. Both concepts relate to communications between the government agency and offerors during the procurement process, but they serve different purposes and have different implications. Here’s a breakdown of the difference between meaningful discussions and clarifications:

Meaningful Discussions:

1. Purpose: Meaningful discussions are a formal and interactive exchange between the government agency and offerors after the submission of initial proposals. The objective is to allow offerors an opportunity to revise and improve their proposals to enhance their chances of receiving the award.
2. Scope: During meaningful discussions, the agency can address deficiencies, weaknesses, or other aspects of the proposals that require revision to meet the solicitation’s requirements. It involves a substantive dialogue aimed at achieving a more favorable proposal.
3. Open and Fair: The agency is required to conduct meaningful discussions in an open and fair manner. It should provide offerors with specific feedback and guidance regarding their proposals, highlighting areas that need improvement.
4. Competitive Impact: If an offeror does not receive meaningful discussions and the opportunity to revise its proposal, it may be prejudiced competitively, as it would not have had the chance to address weaknesses or improve its position. Lack of meaningful discussions can be grounds for a successful bid protest if it affected the outcome of the procurement.


1. Purpose: Clarifications are limited exchanges between the agency and offerors to eliminate minor uncertainties or clerical errors in proposals. The purpose is to seek clarification or obtain confirmation about specific aspects of the proposal without allowing major revisions.
2. Scope: Clarifications are narrow in scope and typically do not permit substantive changes to the proposal. They seek to resolve ambiguities or seek confirmation on relatively minor or clerical matters.
3. Restrictive: The agency must ensure that clarifications do not provide an unfair advantage to any offeror or permit the submission of revised proposals. The goal is to maintain the competitive integrity of the procurement process.
4. Limited Impact: If an offeror does not receive the opportunity for clarifications, it generally does not prejudice their competitive position significantly. Clarifications are less extensive than meaningful discussions and do not involve the opportunity for substantial proposal revisions.

In summary, meaningful discussions involve substantive exchanges between the agency and offerors to address deficiencies and improve proposals, providing a fair opportunity to compete. Clarifications, on the other hand, are limited exchanges seeking minor clarifications or confirmation without allowing major revisions. The distinction is crucial because the absence of meaningful discussions may give rise to a successful bid protest, while the denial of clarifications typically has a lesser impact on the competitive process.

Meaningful Discussions Regarding Staffing Levels

Oftentimes, during discussions, government agencies pose questions that may lead you to increase or decrease your proposed staffing. Under GAO protest rules, you will have to show that you were led to propose more or less staffing than was necessary to perform the contract. You also have to show prejudice.

  • When you get a debriefing, you want to carefully, analyze the agency discussion and link to your previous discussions before award.

It is a fundamental principle of negotiated procurements that discussions when conducted, must be meaningful; that is, discussions must identify deficiencies and significant weaknesses in an offeror’s proposal that could reasonably be addressed so as to materially enhance the offeror’s potential for receiving award. See FAR § 15.306(d).  In addition, government contracting agencies may not mislead you through the framing of a discussion question into responding in a manner that does not address the agency’s actual concerns, or otherwise misinform you concerning a problem with its proposal.

For example, if the Agency asks about a specific part of your technical proposal, it must show during a GAO protest that there was actually a point of discussing that portion of your proposal and not later surprise you with a problem in another part of the proposal.

If you believe that a federal agency did not conduct meaningful discussions during the evaluation stage, and you are considering filing a FAR protest, call our Washington, DC bid protest lawyers at 1-866-601-6618.

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