This post is the first in what will be a continuing series of posts on the basic tenets of public bidding and contracting in Pennsylvania.
A cornerstone of public bidding is the concept of a “level playing field” which binds all of the bidders to a common standard which governs all bids that are received. A common standard implies previously prepared specifications, freely accessible to all competitors, and not written in favor of one particular bidder. The level playing field is violated whenever the public entity applies a different standard to the bids received, or awards a contract based upon unpublished or unadvertised standards, or otherwise deviates from the published bid instructions and requirements.
In Ezy Parks v. Larson, 499 Pa. 615, 454 A.2d 928 (1982), a case which is often cited, the Supreme Court re-affirmed the concept of a level playing field. In Ezy Parks, the Supreme Court enjoined an award by PennDOT of new leases for existing parking lots where the bid instructions were ambiguous and did not provide a common basis on which all of the bids could be judged. Further, the Supreme Court re-emphasized that the bidding instructions could not be clarified on an ad hoc basis by ex parte explanations from public officials to those potential bidders who are either clever enough to seek such advice or who simply, for whatever reason, have special access to the ears of the public officials.