01.31.2005 Learning Government Purchasing Lingo
South Carolina Business Journal
Government purchasing is a relatively stable business, even when the economy is tough. Public entities may have to postpone larger purchases, but will still buy essential day-to-day items. Dealing with the government, however, is more difficult than selling to privately owned businesses, thanks to extensive statutes, regulations and manuals that govern purchasing.
Learning the lingo associated with government purchasing is important. Government purchasing is bid out, often through either an Invitation for Bid (IFB) or a Request for Proposal (RFP). Solicitation requirements are often called specifications, or specs. To win a contract, a company must be both responsive (submitting a bid which conforms to the solicitation) and responsible (having the capability, integrity and reliability to fully meet the terms of the contract). Invitation for Bids are awarded to the responsive and responsible bidder offering the lowest price, while Request for Proposals are awarded to the company which scored the highest on evaluation criteria set out in the RFP.
There are several methods for finding out what state and local governments are buying. In South Carolina you can subscribe to South Carolina Business Opportunities ( SCBO ) at www.state.sc.us/mmo/scbo/scboinfo.htm. A one-year subscription costs $45 for on-line viewing and $125 for a hard copy. This publication contains all proposed state procurements worth $10,000 or more. In South Carolina, you can also check websites for the Materials Management Office www.state.sc.us/mmo/ or the Chief Information Officer www.cio.sc.gov to get information on outstanding solicitations. To find information from all states, subscribe to a service such as The Bidders Compendium at www.bidders.com or B2GMarket at www.bidmain.com. These services range in cost from $300 to $600 per year, and can provide hard copy mailings and e-mail notifications. You can also check individual websites from each state s purchasing agency to determine available solicitations. The state and local government on the Net web-site at www.statelocalgov.net//index.cfm provides a link to every State s web-site.
Read solicitations thoroughly. Specification issues must be raised through a request for clarification, a question submitted through the authorized question-and-answer period or through a specification protest. Most states will reject a bid if there have been exceptions taken or noted to the terms and conditions, so be careful in re-phrasing terms and conditions. It is often best for the bidder to provide a general statement indicating agreement with all of the terms and conditions, rather than restating them or disagreeing with any portion of them.
Follow all specification requirements precisely even if they seem trivial. Don t give a competitor anything to complain about if you are the winning bidder. Also, submit your bid or proposal by the time indicated. Late bids and proposals are not accepted. Aim to have your submission in at least several hours early; if you wait until the last minute and are unable to find a parking place, it could cost you the job!
After the bids are evaluated and the proposals scored, the purchasing entity will issue a Notice of Intent to Award, listing the winners. Deadlines for protesting an award are short. In South Carolina, you have 15 days from the date the award is posted to protest.
Other states have equally short deadlines. In Rhode Island, a bidder has two calendar weeks to protest, for example, while Wisconsin gives just 10 working days. Learn deadlines early, in case you re not the winning vendor. In most states once the Intent to Award is issued, you can access certain parts of the winning bid through Freedom of Information laws. This information can help you draft a protest letter.
A lawyer can advise you whether specification or award protests are available and give you an idea of your likelihood of success. A lawyer will also be helpful in apprising you of time deadlines and drafting protest letters, or in representing you in defending your award against a protest. If you are in a situation where it would not be cost-effective for you to hire a lawyer, you can represent yourself. Read the rules and manuals carefully and be prepared to respond quickly if you are not the winning vendor.