By: Michael H. Payne
Government contractors frequently use incorrect terminology to describe a solicitation. For example, clients often call me and ask why they were not awarded a contract even though they had submitted the lowest bid. The first thing that I ask is whether the solicitation was a Request for Proposals ("RFP"), or an Invitation for Bid ("IFB"). If it was an RFP, the award was probably based on best value and the lowest-priced proposal would not necessarily receive the award. If the solicitation was an IFB, there would be more of a question about why an award was not made to the lowest-priced bidder. Of course, even in sealed bidding the lowest bidder must also be responsive and responsible in order to receive an award, so there can be a valid reason as to why the lowest bidder did not receive the award.
The best way to show that you understand the basics of the federal procurement process is to remember that responses to an IFB (sealed bid solicitation) are referred to as "bids," and responses to an RFP (negotiated procurement) are referred to as "proposals" or "offers." In other words, the proper terms under an IFB are "bid," "bidder," and "sealed bid," and the proper terms under an RFP are "proposal," "offer," and "offeror." Your lawyer will become very confused if you mix these terms by saying, for example, "I just submitted a bid on an RFP." Sometimes, the only way that I can figure out what my client is talking about is to ask for the solicitation number (the "R" or the "B" in the middle will be a dead giveaway), or I may simply ask my client to send me a copy of the solicitation.
Of course, government procurement personnel frequently add to the confusion. RPPs are often referred to as "negotiated procurements" even though there usually are no negotiations (or "discussions"), and contracting officers often refer to both bids and proposals as "bids," To make matters worse, the GAO and the courts refer to protests of either an IFB or an RFP as "bid protests." No wonder there is so much confusion.
Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm's Federal Practice Group and, together with other experienced members of the group, frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters, including teaming arrangements, negotiated procurements, bid protests, claims, and appeals.
By: Michael H. Payne
By: Michael H. Payne
There is an old saying that "you win some, and you lose some." Well, if you are a construction contractor who competes in the world of Multiple Award Task Order Contracting ("MATOC"), you usually lose. Under sealed bidding, which dominated the procurement of federal construction for many years, a contractor who was not the low bidder could always compete for the next project. In the MATOC arena, a contractor who is not selected to be one of the chosen few to compete for task orders over what is often a three to five year period may not be able to compete for the "next project" for a long time. What this means is that there are a few winners, but there are many more losers.
Even if a contractor is fortunate enough to be selected as one of the MATOC master contract holders, there is no guarantee of being selected for future task orders. Every construction MATOC features a "seed" project that serves as the basis of the price competition for the evaluation of the offers on the master contracts. If a contractor does not win the seed project, there may not be another task order for a long time, and the award of the ensuing task orders may go to someone other than the low bidder. The reason for this is that most construction MATOCs are negotiated, best value, procurements ("RFPs"), and past performance, experience, technical merit, quality of personnel, small business subcontracting, and other evaluation factors may come into play. Although it can be argued that the award of a master MATOC should pre-qualify all of the MATOC holders, we have heard complaints from a number of contractors who lose out in the competition for task orders because they do not score well on past performance, or one of the other evaluation factors. This has never made sense to me because if a contractor has won the fierce competition for one of the master MATOCs, price should be the discriminator for the task order awards. If the contractor is not technically qualified to receive a task award on a lowest price proposal, why was the contractor selected as one of the MATOC holders in the first place?
Those who are really left out in the cold, however, are the construction contractors who fail to win one of the master MATOC awards. Simply because a contractor may not have scored particularly well technically, or simply because the contractor's price on a seed project may have been too high, does not mean that it will always be that way. A contractor can do a much better job of putting together a competitive proposal the next week, but if all of the upcoming projects are tied up in MATOCs, the door is closed. Simply because a contractor submits the lowest price on a seed project does not mean that the contractor will be similarly competitive on future projects. It is for this reason that I have been a frequent critic of indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity ("IDIQ/MATOC") contracting for construction. I do not believe that FAR 16.5, dealing with various indefinite delivery contracts, was ever meant to be applied to construction, and I believe that the system unfairly penalizes a lot of very qualified contractors who simply are not adept at proposal writing. Construction was successfully procured using sealed bidding for many years, and that system was more open and fair. The new system simply results in too many losers and not enough winners. (See the earlier article "Has the Corps of Engineers Gone MATOC Crazy?").
Michael H. Payne is the Chairman of the firm's Federal Practice Group and, together with other experienced members of the group, frequently advises contractors on federal contracting matters. He also serves as the Executive Director of FedCon Consulting, an ancillary business of the firm that involves former contracting officers, procurement and technical personnel, as well as lawyers, in providing assistance to federal construction contractors in the preparation of proposals.
Federal construction contractors need to be aware that an unbalanced bid can be rejected as nonresponsive. FAR 52.214-10(e) provides that:
“The Government may reject a bid as nonresponsive if the prices bid are materially unbalanced between line items or subline items. A bid is materially unbalanced when it is based on prices significantly less than cost for some work and prices which are significantly overstated in relation to cost for other work, and if there is a reasonable doubt that the bid will result in the lowest overall cost to the Government even though it may be the low evaluated bid, or if it is so unbalanced as to be tantamount to allowing an advance payment.”
Unbalanced bidding becomes a problem if the government believes that the bidder who submitted the apparent low bid according to the method by which the low bid was to be determined for evaluation purposes, in all probability will ultimately perform the project at a higher cost than the second bidder. In other words, the idea is that the low bidder has managed to “trick” the system by managing to be evaluated as low at bid opening, but through an unbalancing strategy has made it likely that he will be paid more than it appears. For example, if a solicitation requests bids on both an underrun and an overrun quantity for the same item (i.e. a unit price price for over 10,000 cubic yards and a unit price for under 10,000 cubic yards), with both bid item prices to be counted for bid evaluation purposes, an unbalanced bid would insert a very high price for the item likely to overrrun, and a very low price for the item likely to underrun. The bidder thereby would be planning to be paid a lot more than reflected by its bid because of its “educated guess” that there will be a windfall occasioned by an overrun.Continue Reading...
Many contractors prepare bids on a computer, using either commercially prepared bid packages or "home grown" spreadsheets using Excel or similar programs, to automatically calculate their bids. A recent decision by the Comptroller General, however, reveals some of the dangers that these "automatic" packages hold for a contractor. A bidder on a sewer lagoon project for the Corps of Engineers recently utilized a computer program and contended that an erroneous entry resulted in its bid of $6,881,800 being 25 percent lower than the next competitor's bid. The low bidder alleged that it had made a "mistake" in preparing its bid and requested upward correction. The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) allow upward correction of a bid when the bidder provides clear and convincing evidence of both the existence of a mistake and the bid actually intended, but only where the correction would not result in displacing one or more lower bids. See FAR 14.407-3(a). The low bidder alleged that a "mistake" occurred because it "overrode" the automatic calculations in the spreadsheet by manually entering a dollar amount in the "total" column for a bid item rather than allowing that total amount to be automatically calculated by the formula in that cell.Continue Reading...