Tips on Bidding on Public Contracts II
Last article we discussed some tips for bidding on public projects. Why stop there? Let’s continue where we left off.
Disclaimer: The following information does NOT constitute legal advice and is only for general educational purposes. Each situation is different and specific legal issues usually require additional research and investigation, so do not rely on this article to address a particular legal issue; use this as a starting point to gain a general understanding. This article, although educational in purpose and substance, nevertheless, might be deemed attorney advertising, and prior results do not guarantee future success.
Fill out the Forms Correctly the First Time
This may seem like obvious common sense, but in my time as a humble public servant, I can’t tell you how many bidders filled out the wrong forms, filled out the forms incorrectly, or simply didn’t fill them out.
There are generally three reasons for this: (1) English isn’t their native language (2) the forms are complicated, and even a technically minded person with an advanced degree, whose native tongue is English, wouldn’t know exactly what to write (3) the bidders are just too lazy or don’t care enough to do it - granted, this could be a cost benefit analysis of “is it worth the enormous amount of time to complete this mountain of paperwork versus will I win the bid, and if I do, can I complete it then?”
Much of whether bidders fill out the paperwork depends on how strictly the agency requires it filled out properly, and upfront, and how sophisticated / how many resources the bidder has. Sometimes, the answer also hinges on whether the vendor has prior experience filling out these same forms. The forms generally don’t vary too much within agencies, and for municipalities or the State government, might be the same for all projects within that municipality or state government. Also, if the vendor has a large compliance staff, that staff might expertly process and deal with all kinds of complicated and annoying forms.
Some agencies or agency departments will reject all bids that weren’t filled out properly with the bid submission. Some don’t require those documents until the winner is selected. First off, find out which situation you are in. There is no point wasting valuable time filling out these forms unless you must. If you aren’t sure how to do it, don’t be afraid to try asking the Designated Contact at the agency for that particular bid (or if they provide an expert to assist you, that agency person). Follow the instructions of people that are trying to help you. Don’t ignore important emails that explain things. If English is not your native language, find someone to help you, or request a translator from the agency (oftentimes they will have one).
Failure to fill out these annoying compliance forms when you must, is a good way to be disqualified for the bid. Some of these forms actually carry wide ranging penalties if you intentionally lie on them - you could be found “non-responsible” (i.e. you lack integrity and could be barred from bidding on public projects for several years) or even criminally liable for perjury. So, do yourself a favor: see if you need to fill out the forms ahead of time or with your bid, make sure you understand them, and don’t lie.
Attend the Pre-Bid Meeting & Ask Questions
In any given bid, an agency might hold what’s called a “Pre Bid Meeting.” What is it? A meeting before the bids are due, where an agency project manager or engineer will discuss the entire project, what’s required administratively, what the specifications will be, and also will permit everyone to ask questions.
Sometimes, questions are permitted to be submitted whether there is such a meeting or not. These questions are usually published and answered for everyone that expressed prior interest in the bid, and/or might be posted on the agency website. So, for instance, assume, the Department of Important Affairs publicly advertises a construction job, and says ABC concrete or its equivalent can be used on the job, and the bid is due in three weeks. A week before the bid is due, ACME Bidder poses the question, is XYZ concrete considered an “equivalent”?
The agency may or may not substantively answer the question, but if it does, it most likely will post the answer on its website for *anyone* to see. So, just because ACME was smart enough to ask the question doesn’t mean they only get the answer. *Everyone* gets to know the answer. So, if your question will “tip-off” your competition, you may or may not want to ask the question. Very likely, although not always, they will publish the question and the answer. Also, if there was a pre-bid meeting, there probably was a sign-in sheet and likely all those bidders will be emailed the answers to all questions.
Next time, we discuss Responsive vs. Responsible Bidders.