As part of a trend, Colt protesting loss of $84 million Army contract

Washington — West Hartford-based Colt Defense LLC has lost an $84 million Army contract to a competitor and, like an increasing number of federal contractors, it’s not taking rejection sitting down.

In awarding the lucrative contract for 70,000 to 100,000 rifles, the Army Contracting Command preferred the bid of Remington in Ilion, N.Y.

That prompted Colt Defense to file a protest of that award Tuesday with the Government Accountability Office.

As federal dollars shrink, these types of protests are increasing, the GAO said.

It determined that government contractors filed 2,353 protests in the 2011 fiscal year. That’s up almost 19 percent from the 1,989 cases filed when federal contract spending peaked in 2007.

“It’s been a tough economy,” said Ralph White, the GAO ‘s general counsel for procurement law. “And there’s no disputing the effect of a tough economy on challenges to a loss of opportunity.”

The impact of the lost contract on Colt Defense and its employees is unknown. The company did not return several calls seeking comment.

But West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka said, “The loss of a contract of that value by a local company would likely have an impact on the region.”.

Last year companies in the state received nearly $13 billion from more than 40,000 federal contracts. Only 11 states receive more contracting dollars from Washington than Connecticut, and all, like California, Texas and New York, are much larger in size and population.

Much of Connecticut’s contracting dollars go to the defense giants. United Technologies, Sikorsky and General Electric receive billions of dollars each year from Washington.

Other contracts are more modest. The Thomas J. Lipton Co. in Trumbull won a $12 million contract last year from the Pentagon for condiments, mostly mayonnaise. Fujifilms in Stamford was awarded a $35,000 contract from the Department of Veterans Affairs for imaging equipment.

But as budget-cutters look to reduce the deficit, the number of government contracts available to Connecticut companies is also likely to shrink.

Nationwide, there were a little more than 933,000 direct contract awards last year, a 38 percent drop from 2007.

Loren Thompson, a defense expert with the Lexington Institute, a northern Virginia think tank, said protests like the one filed by Colt Defense have become more common as the number of opportunities to do business with the federal government is shrinking.

“And a lot of the times, the protests are upheld,” Thompson said. “If you have a really good lawyer, you have a good way of finding a problem in the process that awarded the contract to a competitor.”

But the protestor doesn’t always win.

Two years ago, Sikorsky protested a Navy plan to buy the same Russian-made helicopters for military operations in Afghanistan that the Russians used there during the 1980s. The GAO denied the protest.

United Healthcare, a Minnesota company that employs hundreds of people in Connecticut, also lost a protest last year to a Department of Veterans Affairs’ award of a $23.5 billion contract to Kentucky-based Humana.

The GAO has up to 100 days to rule on Colt Defense’s protest, but a decision could come before that.