Can a Commonwealth agency consider just a single bidder’s price and refuse to even look at the prices of other bidders in making a competitive contract award? According to a recent, unpublished decision of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, the answer is yes.
In January 2014, the Pa. Department of Community and Economic Development (Department) issued a Request for Quotation (RFQ) seeking a contractor to design, market, and implement a sale of tax credits. The RFQ specified that only those bidders whose technical submittal received at least 70% of the available technical points would be considered “responsible” and eligible for selection on the basis of price. The Department received three bids. After applying the scoring criteria to the bidders’ technical submittals, the Department eliminated all but one bidder for selection on the basis of price. A protest was filed by one of the eliminated bidders. The Department denied the protest, and an appeal was then taken to the Commonwealth Court.
On appeal, the bidder argued that, by applying a scoring threshold that eliminated all but one bidder and by failing to compare the selected bidder’s price to the other bidders’ prices, the Department violated the requirement of section 513(g) of the Procurement Code that an agency take price into account when awarding a contract.
Section 513(g) of the Procurement Code states:
(g) Selection for negotiation.–The responsible offeror whose proposal is determined in writing to be the most advantageous to the purchasing agency, taking into consideration price and all evaluation factors, shall be selected for contract negotiation.
The Commonwealth Court rejected the bidder’s argument, holding:
Section 513(g) requires a purchasing agency to take price into consideration when determining which “responsible offeror” should be selected for contract negotiation. This provision neither requires a purchasing agency to revisit its determination that an offeror is not responsible nor does it prohibit a purchasing agency from applying announced criteria to determine that all but one offeror is non-responsible. Here, the Department was faced with only one offeror who met the RFQ’s criteria to be considered a responsible offeror. Under these circumstances, we cannot say that the Department erred or violated the Procurement Code by considering the cost submittal of that offeror alone.
From a purely legalistic viewpoint, the Commonwealth Court is correct in interpreting section 513(g). But from a competitive bidding viewpoint, where the taxpayers are served by true competition where all bidders’ prices are exposed and considered, there is something just a bit uneasy about allowing a Commonwealth agency to award a contract based on just one price without knowing whether the other prices were lower. In this case, was the winning bidder’s proposal truly the “most advantageous” to the Commonwealth, if the other bidders’ prices were lower and if the other bidders were also nonetheless qualified to perform the contract, notwithstanding their failure to meet a scoring threshold, considering that technical scoring and comparison of bidders’ qualifications are inherently subjective while the comparison of bidders’ prices is purely objective.
The unpublished decision of the Commonwealth Court can be found here.