In two, not-so-recent decisions involving bid protests filed under the Pa. Procurement Code, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has held that it was not improper to allow the awarded vendor to actively participate in the protests.
In the two cases, the aggrieved bidders filed protests with the Pa. Department of Corrections challenging awards for a contract for a secure telephone system for inmates housed at Department facilities. In each case, the Secretary permitted the contract awardee to participate in the bid protest. In one protest, the awardee was permitted to file a reply to the bid protest.
On appeal, the bidders argued in each case that the contract awardee’s participation in the protest and hearing was unlawful because, under section 1711.1 of the Procurement Code, the only proper parties to a protest are the protestant and the contracting officer, and the awardee may not participate because, under the statute, it is not an enumerated party to a protest.
The Commonwealth Court flatly rejected this argument, finding that there was no abuse of discretion in allowing the contract awardee to participate in the protest. This decision makes perfect sense. The Procurement Code itself, at section 1711.1(e), provides that the person deciding the protest “may request and review such additional documents or information he deems necessary to render a decision and may, at his sole discretion, conduct a hearing.” This could certainly include information from the vendor who has been awarded the contract. In addition, as the Court noted, the Department of General Service’s Procurement Handbook permits such participation where “substantial issues are raised by the protest.” Furthermore, by comparison, in an equity action filed to protest and enjoin a local contract award, the contract awardee is deemed to be an indispensable party and must be included in the proceeding.
So, if you intend to protest a bid or contract award under the Procurement Code, you are hereby forewarned: be prepared to fend off arguments by both the agency soliciting your bid and the entity who has been awarded the contract.