The U.S. Air Force granted Raytheon "extended debriefings" for the company’s loss of a major space surveillance system to answer questions that could not be addressed for the company using the "traditional debriefing format," according to Air Force officials.

They are part of a larger Air Force pilot debriefing program started in October 2013 for engaging unsuccessful contract bidders in an attempt to improve awareness of why they lost and, potentially, avoid drawn-out and costly protests with the Government Accountability Office.

Raytheon lost a $915 million contract to Lockheed Martin to build a new Space Fence, an S-band radar at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It will be used to monitor objects in space – including satellites and debris – 5 cm. or less in diameter. The contract was awarded June 2, and Lockheed Martin has begun its work.

Raytheon’s first debriefing on the loss was June 9. The Air Force granted extended debriefings taking place June 23-25, according to service spokesman Maj. Eric Badger. The company will then have 10 days to submit a protest.

The service hopes the extended debriefings will improve transparency into the source-selection process for losing bidders. "Extended debriefings permit a more thorough discussion of the source-selection decision and more openly demonstrates to the unsuccessful offeror that its proposal was treated fairly," says service spokesman Ed Gulick. "The end result is that this could dissuade unsuccessful offerors from filing speculative bid protests."

Though service officials argue they have not suffered significantly more protests in recent years than in the past, those filed have been fairly high profile, bringing unwanted scrutiny onto the service. Among them are the multiple botched attempts that eventually led to Boeing’s KC-46 aerial refueler contract as well as industry’s chagrin at the combat search and rescue helicopter competition.

Thus far, the Air Force has conducted one set of debriefings under the pilot program. Prior to its stand up, however, five extended debriefings were done, leading to the decision to move forward with the pilot program, Gulick says. He declined to identify the programs for those other than Raytheon’s debriefings; Raytheon gave permission to the service to discuss the matter publicly. The service plans to conduct several such debriefings before assessing the success of the pilot effort.

Thus far, they have "had a positive outcome," Gulick says. "They have enhanced contractor awareness of the source selection decision, which resulted either in withdrawing their protests from the GAO or resolving issues at a [lower] level without GAO involvement."

As the Pentagon competes fewer programs amid tighter budgets, contractors have become bolder in their protest attempts, with some even filing protests knowing they would lose, but still hoping to stall a competitor’s work or garner extra intelligence on their technology through the protest process. Enhanced communication between the service and losing companies could, potentially, curb this behavior.