The process that all qualified bidders are properly briefed and put in a position to submit a competitive bid in relation to a major capital project depends on how the government documents are written.
Their ability to do so should not be assumed as a matter of course. Few things are as embarrassing to a municipal council as when only one (or no) bid or proposal is submitted for a high profile public project. Such a situation allows no opportunity for cost comparison. It is virtually impossible to decide whether the bid is attractive or not.
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 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.
Among the most important guidelines to provide are the following self-evident measures:
- The need for the supplier to follow the directions given for the submission of bids or proposals should be stressed. In the private sector, the negotiation process allows customers and suppliers to work through ideas through an exchange of information.
- Suppliers should be encouraged to confirm that they are providing all the required information. It is vital to read the instructions to bidders carefully to make sure that all required information is provided.
- Contractors should be instructed to confirm that they understand what is required. Virtually all tender and RFP competitions contemplate a request for information procedure which allows bidders to clarify what the government is seeking before submitting their bids.
- Contractors need to understand that time is of the essence. Bids must be submitted on time. Virtually every municipality has disqualified a bidder at one time, who missed the deadline for bidding by a minute or two.
- Contractors must not exceed the page length permitted for proposals. If one bidder is restricted to 10 pages, then every bidder must be restricted to a proposal of the same length.
- Where the contract competition contemplates a live presentation, time limits will be enforced. The rational is the same as with respect to the preceding comments.
- Contractors should present information in an effective manner, that brings their message across clearly. A tender or RFP is a document-based competition. Where bidders are allowed a discretion as to how to present their material, they should do so in the manner most likely to convey their message effectively.
- 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.
- Contractors should be encouraged to get to know the customer. Too often, contractors spend little or no time trying to learn what the municipality hopes to accomplish by putting out an RFP.
- Contractors should be encouraged to bid a sensible price. If the bidding process permits it, take the time to explain why the price bid is both realistic and offers good value.
- Contractors should understand that there is no point in over-bidding a contract. A Rolls Royce Phantom and a Ford Taurus are both cars. However, there is no point in bidding to supply so many Phantoms when the invitation for tenders indicates that the municipality wishes to buy that number of Taurus or equivalent.
- Contractors should be told to make their bids specific. RFP’s and tenders invariably call for specific information. Government procurement staff are encouraged to write RFP and tender specifications so that they identify a problem, and then leave it to bidders to offer a solution.
Municipalities can also do much to improve their cause by streamlining tender and RFP procedures to produce a more efficient proposal.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.