After Bollinger Shipyards, Eastern Shipbuilding Group and Bath Iron Works were named finalists to build the Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), VT Halter and Huntington Ingalls, two companies that did not make the cut, cried foul and filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. As expected, in a 21-page report released yesterday, the GAO ruled that the selection process was fair.

Going after these kind of government contracts is a high stakes game. With the Coast Guard planning to build 25 OPCs, the contract's estimated value could top $11 billion. Each of the three shipyards selected received a preliminary and contract design award worth about $22 million. 

Ingalls chose to protest after receiving a debriefing of the OPC evaluation in February, Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn said at that time, the Sun Herald reports.

But the GAO found no evidence of bias in the selection process and said that Ingalls and Halter were cut from the competition because of their past performance evaluations, according to the AP. 

Ingalls and Halter received marks of "marginal" while Eastern was rated "superior" and Bath Iron Works and Bollinger received "satisfactory" marks, the GAO said in its report.

Even so, on Monday, Ingalls Shipbuilding received a $76.5 million fixed-price contract from the Coast Guard to purchase long-lead materials for the eighth national security cutter, Midgett.

During the next 18 months, each of the finalist shipyards will further develop individual concepts for the OPC. The Coast Guard will then evaluate each submission and select one shipyard for detail design and ship construction.

With such money (and jobs — Eastern said 2,000 jobs could be created in northwest Florida if they are awarded the final OPC contract) at stake, it's no wonder that companies that didn't make it to the next round felt they had nothing to lose by filing a protest. Protests are pretty common and usually get shot down. 

But what do you think? Was the protest to the GAO just sour grapes on the part of the losing companies? Is the method the government uses to award design contracts the best way to identify the shipyard that can make them the best vessel?