I was speaking on a panel about government procurement this year at Construct Canada. I was very interested, and somewhat concerned, with the conversation that took place after our session from the people in attendance.
It would appear that the term "fake RFP" is now part of the standard language when bidding on government contracts.
The general feeling from many contractors and suppliers is that many, not all, government contracts are specific when written for certain companies to win. I did not find this that shocking. However, I am concerned that this is a very well held theory among bidders and the main reason why generally speaking several companies do not bid on government contracts.
It gets back to the idea that RFPs are so poorly written that the people that are evaluating them can, for the most part, pick whoever they want, regardless of the price, or other criteria in the RFP. Unless you have a completely defendable set of evaluation criteria, the government and most often municipalities, are in for a rough ride when it comes to the debrief after the contract award related to the winner, and the companies that feel that the process was rigged for a specific company to win.
The general law for most levels of government in Canada is that while identified evaluation criteria in relation to an RFP must be reasonably indicative of the criteria of assessment, they need not be exhaustive. It is not necessary to delve into the sub-criteria so long as they are reasonably related to those that were expressly identified.
The evaluation process requires professional judgement, drawing upon the training and experience of the evaluators. This is the main issue that has been brought to my attention for several years but now on a regular basis.
Many companies feel that the people evaluating, as well as the poorly written documents, add to a broken system that is not worth putting in the vast amount of time, money and resources to bother to bid.
To that I would say, the theoretical goals of the bid evaluation itself can be summarized simply in the following two statements:
The process should be transparent. It should be possible for an objective third party to see how decisions were made.
The process should be fair. The bids should be evaluated on the criteria that were established when the bids were solicited (subject to such modifications as may have been properly brought to the notice of the bidders). Unless such fairness prevails, the municipality can have no certainty that the bids it is evaluating will offer the best combination and functionality.
Sadly, I have represented too many clients over the years at debriefs that are told by municipal procurement officers that they agree the process could have been done better and will correct it on the next RFP. I find that it rarely happens that any of these mistakes get corrected the next time. So, who is to blame?
I would first suggest that government procurement managers spend more time in the preparation of tender and RFP documents. Secondly, I would also suggest that contractors and suppliers push back harder when they feel they have been mistreated when it comes to the bidding process.
Oddly enough, contractors don't want to complain too much for fear that they will be overlooked on the next contract for being a trouble maker. I would argue the exact opposite, when you stand up for what is right and shine a light on it in every way possible, it is the only option to fix the problems that plague the municipal bidding process.
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.