I am often asked by owners, what is the standard time frame for vendors and contractors to bid on tenders and RFPs.
The period between the publication of the tender or RFP notice, the time when the deal is taken to market, and the closing of the tender or RFP is known as the bid period.
Since the intent of a tender or RFP is for the suppliers or contractors to bring forward bids or proposals, the extent of the contract between the customer and supplier is relatively limited in comparison to what would take place in a negotiated contract.
The bidding process has its own unique risks, completely distinct from those associated with the overall contracting process, which must be understood and provided for just as in the case of any other contract-related risk.
The period should be sufficiently long to allow the bidders a reasonable time frame to prepare and submit their bids. For most municipalities, the time allowed will range from 15 to 30 calendar days. However, the specific time frame allowed will reflect a range of considerations to the proposed procurement, such as:
The degree of urgency;
- the complexity of transaction and the supply to be made; whether it is necessary to allow for discussions with prospective subcontractors or other lower-tier suppliers;
- the geographic distribution of prospective bidders; and
- whether any testing (e.g., of samples) is required before the bid is made.
The provision of samples is atypical and usually is required only when the characteristics of the product cannot be described adequately in the specification or purchase description.
For instance, the use of bid samples would be appropriate for products that must be suitable from the standpoint of balance, facility of use, general “feel,” colour, pattern, or other characteristics that cannot be described adequately in the specification.
If samples are required, then the terms and conditions of the tender must list all sample characteristics that will be examined. The terms and conditions of the tender will usually provide that samples that are not destroyed in testing will be returned to bidders at their request and expense, but otherwise specified in the invitation.
In some cases, it may be considered advantageous to hold a pre-bid meeting or conference with prospective bidders.
Such meetings are often used in a complex acquisition as a means of briefing prospective bidders and explaining complicated specifications and requirements to them as early as possible after the invitation has been issued and before the bids are opened.
Care must be taken in relation to such meetings to protect all parties concerned. The municipality should have a designated speaker who will handle most of the discussions.
The individual concerned must have a commanding knowledge of the purchasing project. If project management is in place, the ideal speaker would be the project sponsor.
Other members of the internal team should speak with respect to issues only within their respective areas of expertise. Even so, the purpose of any such meeting is to have a constructive dialogue. Consequently, artificial constraints should not be imposed. So as far as possible, a record should be taken of all questions raised. After the meeting is over, a formal reply should be sent to all prospective bidders.
The information in question should be issued in the form of a proper addendum to the RFP or tender. A meeting alone should not be used as a substitute for an addendum, in view of the risk of unrecorded remarks and ambiguous comments.
More generally, addenda are issued where it becomes necessary to make changes in quantity, specifications, delivery schedules, opening dates, etc., or to correct a defective or ambiguous invitation. Usually, the terms and conditions governing the tender or RFP will contain a provision to clarify any changes in writing.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at email@example.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.