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Procurement Perspectives: Municipal purchasing is not a gatekeeping function

Stephen Bauld
Procurement Perspectives: Municipal purchasing is not a gatekeeping function

Subject to the need to ensure proper qualification, a municipality should encourage prospective contractors to bid.

As I have always said, the municipal purchasing operation should not be a gatekeeping function.

An important role for the purchasing department while a tender or RFP for a major capital project is out for bid, is to ensure all prospective bidders understand properly how to go about submitting a qualified bid for the contract.

Sloppily prepared and incomplete bid documents often leave government acquisition officials with no choice but to reject a bid that might very well have been awarded the contract if put together properly.

Ultimately, it is the government that pays for these mistakes.

As important as government contracts are to the overall economy, they make up a minority of the total work available to the private sector. The open, competitive system of a contract award is a process with which many private sector companies are only barely familiar.

As a result, many bidders make simple mistakes in preparing their bids, not realizing those mistakes constitute deal-breakers.

Among the most important guides to provide are relatively self-evident measures.

Contractors should be encouraged to confirm they are providing all required information. It is vital to read the instructions to bidders carefully to make sure all the information is provided.

In many cases, the request for particular kinds of information may not be readily apparent.

If the information is not provided, the municipality may have little alternative but to reject the bid. It is also important for information to be provided in the manner and form requested.

Although it may be possible for the members of the municipal evaluation team to work out the answers from the information that is submitted, if the required information is not provided at the specified place in the bid, they are under no obligation to hunt through the balance of the information to see if it is there.

If there are numerous bids, or if the size of the proposal is large, there is little prospect that anyone will be prepared to undertake such a laborious effort.

In government contracting, the devil can be in the details. Many contractors run afoul of compliance with the requirements of a tender because they do not ensure they have presented all required information properly, as well as all specified certifications and representations.

Contractors must not exceed the page length permitted for proposals.

If one bidder is restricted to 10 pages, then every bidder has to be restricted to a proposal of the same length. The government official reviewing the proposal is required to stop reading once the page limit is reached.

Exceeding length requirements reduces the chance of winning the contract.

You may be aware that governments do make mistakes. Particularly at the municipal level, it is relatively rare for government staff to possess the same kind of subject matter expertise as the contractor’s staff.

If the description of objectives in an RFP does not make practical sense, that should be discussed with the municipality before any bid is submitted. Once again, contractors should be encouraged to take advantage of the request for information procedure.

Contractors should be encouraged to avoid using technical jargon and other complex language in their bids and proposals.

The best advice I can give any contractor is to keep your proposal simple and easy to follow.

A lack of attention to detail is another common problem.

Computational errors, inconsistent information in different parts of the document, incomplete sentences and the like raise serious questions about how serious a bidder is about seeking the contract.

After many years spent reviewing RFPs, both from the contractor side as well as the government perspective, it is the simple errors that cost contractors government contracts.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com.

Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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