WASHINGTON — Eastern Shipbuilding Group said it plans to take its fight over a recent U.S. Coast Guard contract to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims after withdrawing its complaint with the Government Accountability Office.

The Florida shipbuilder said it will seek in court the disclosure of materials the Coast Guard did not release during the GAO protest process. The company’s attorneys are preparing their initial filing now, an Eastern Shipbuilding spokesperson told Defense News.

Eastern today is building the first four ships in the Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter program, which the Coast Guard calls its top acquisition priority. The service recompeted the program for the next 11 ships, and on June 30 awarded that Stage 2 contract to Austal USA.

Eastern Shipbuilding in mid-July protested the award with the Government Accountability Office. Under GAO policy, the Coast Guard had 30 days to provide a report responding to the protest arguments, Eastern would then have 10 days to respond to that report, and GAO would have about two months to consider the case.

GAO confirmed to Defense News in July it faced an Oct. 24 deadline to decide on this case.

In this instance, though, the company spokesperson said the Coast Guard exercised its option to file for a protective order. The Coast Guard has declined to release Austal’s winning proposal or its own scoring evaluations under this protective order, meaning neither Eastern Shipbuilding nor GAO could review the material.

A Coast Guard spokesman declined to comment further on this matter.

When the Coast Guard selected Austal as the competition winner, it did not elaborate on why it chose the Alabama shipbuilder.

GAO updated its website Wednesday to note the protest has been withdrawn. That same day, the Coast Guard announced it was allowing Austal to proceed with work on its first cutter, which could not begin while the protest was in active consideration.

Austal can now begin its detail design work. The Coast Guard said its Stage 2 detail design and construction effort was meant to “maintain commonality with earlier OPCs [built by Eastern Shipbuilding] in critical areas such as the hull and propulsion systems, but provide flexibility to propose and implement new design elements that benefit lifecycle cost, production and operational efficiency and performance.”

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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