Can Retainage Be Held Until Final Completion Of The Project?

On public projects, an owner typically withholds retainage of 10%. Can the owner hold this 10% retainage until final completion? The short answer is, No! Section 3921 of the PA Procurement Code mandates that, when the contract is 50% completed, retainage "shall Read more

Can A Public Owner Ever Seek Clarification Of Ambiguous Pricing?

Recently, a public owner solicited bids for a university construction project. The bid form sought pricing for base bid work and alternate work. One of the bidders included ambiguous pricing for an alternate item, in that the pricing was Read more

Debriefing After Non-Selection Does Not Toll 7-Day Deadline For Bid Protest

The Pa. Procurement Code sets a strict deadline for bid protests - the protest must be filed within seven days after the protestant knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to the protest.  If the protest is untimely, it Read more

Does Separations Act Prohibit Use Of Best Value Contracting For Construction Of Philadelphia Public Buildings?

Now that "best value" contracting is officially the new game in town for City of Philadelphia procurement, with the issuance of the new best value regulations, it's worth asking whether the longstanding Separations Act precludes the City from using best Read more

Does PA Steel Act Prohibit Public Owner From Specifying Foreign-Made Cast Iron Boiler?

The PA Steel Products Procurement Act requires that all steel products (including cast iron products) supplied on a Pennsylvania public works project must be made from U.S.-made steel. Recently, a school district's contract specified a cast iron boiler manufactured in Europe as the Read more

Bid Protests

Can A Public Owner Ever Seek Clarification Of Ambiguous Pricing?

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Recently, a public owner solicited bids for a university construction project. The bid form sought pricing for base bid work and alternate work. One of the bidders included ambiguous pricing for an alternate item, in that the pricing was neither an “add” nor a “deduct” to the base bid price. Instead, it appeared to be a “total” price for all of the work combined. This “total” price, if accepted, would have been the lowest if award was made on the basis of the alternate. The problem with this bid pricing was soon apparent. The bid instructions had informed bidders that alternate pricing was to be added to the base bid pricing to arrive at a total bid price for use in determining the ranking of the bids. The owner was understandably confused by the pricing which did not conform to the bidding instructions.

Under these circumstances, the owner did not reject the bid as ambiguous, but instead actually called the bidder to seek clarification of the pricing. Having received a “clarification,” the owner then expressed an intent to award a contract to the bidder. A protest was soon filed by another bidder, and the protest was later sustained for obvious reasons. Read more

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests Leave a comment

Debriefing After Non-Selection Does Not Toll 7-Day Deadline For Bid Protest

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The Pa. Procurement Code sets a strict deadline for bid protests – the protest must be filed within seven days after the protestant knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to the protest.  If the protest is untimely, it will be rejected. The impact of this brightline rule was shown in a recent Commonwealth Court decision involving a late-filed protest.

In 2016, the Pa. Department of Human Services issued an RFP seeking proposals from managed care organizations to implement a managed care program for physical health and long-term services for the elderly and disabled.  After evaluation of proposals, the Department notified one of the bidders, UnitedHealthcare of Pennsylvania, Inc., that it was not selected. Thereafter, the Department conducted a debriefing with UnitedHealthcare where it provided information concerning the strengths and weaknesses of UnitedHealthcare’s proposal. Unhappy with the outcome, UnitedHealthcare filed a protest, more than seven days after it was notified that it was not selected, but within seven days of the debriefing. The Department denied the protest as untimely, and UnitedHealthcare filed an appeal with the Commonwealth Court. Read more

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Com. of Pa., Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Disappointed Bidder Lacks Standing To Challenge P3 Contract Award By Non-Commonwealth Entity

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In a recent case of first impression, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has affirmed a lower court ruling that a disappointed bidder lacked standing to challenge a contract awarded by a non-Commonwealth entity under the Public-Private Transportation Partnership Act (P3 Act).

In April 2016, the Northampton County General Purpose Authority issued a Request for Proposals under the P3 Act for the Northampton County Bridge Renewal Program for the replacement, rehabilitation, and maintenance of 33 bridges in Northampton County. Four bidders responded, including Clearwater Construction, Inc./Northampton County Bridge Partners LLC and Kriger Construction, Inc.  Ultimately, the Authority selected Kriger to negotiate a public-private partnership agreement to develop the bridge renewal program. Read more

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Public Private Partnership Leave a comment

Are RFQs Immune From Protest Under The Procurement Code?

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If you respond to a Request for Quotes (RFQ) issued by a Commonwealth department or agency, can you protest if the resulting purchase order is awarded to another bidder?

According to the Commonwealth’s Office of Administration, the answer is no.  In a recent protest, the OA issued a letter which took the remarkable position that  “‘Award’ under an RFQ merely results in a Purchase Order under an existing multiple-award contract; therefore an RFQ is not the solicitation or award of a contract, and cannot be protested.”

Needless to say, this position is not supported by a fair reading of section 1711.1 of the Commonwealth Procurement Code which allows an aggrieved bidder or prospective bidder to protest the solicitation or award of a state contract. Certainly, a purchase order that is part of a multiple-award contract is nonetheless a contract; indeed, without issuance of a purchase order, the multiple-award contract is essentially meaningless. Likewise, an RFQ is a solicitation for a quote which may result in a contract – i.e., the purchase order.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Com. of Pa., Procurement Code Leave a comment

Was Bid Non-Conforming Where Use Of PennBid Was Mandatory?

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If a public owner mandates that all bidders use PennBid, an electronic bidding system used by public owners in Pennsylvania, for receipt and tabulation of their bid prices, but also inexplicably requires each bidder to write out its base bid price in words and numbers, what bid form controls?  The PennBid tabulation, or the handwritten bid form?

Suppose the PennBid tabulated base bid price is $100,000, but the bidder writes out $100,001? Which is the controlling bid price? Why, for that matter, would any public owner require two forms of bid pricing which only invites confusion and the possibility of conflicting prices?

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Bid Responsiveness, Electronic Bidding Leave a comment

Procurement Code Protest Allowed Where Late Filing Was Due To Extraordinary Circumstances

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Under the Pa. Procurement Code, a protest must be filed within seven days after the protestant knew or should have known of the facts giving rise to the protest.  If the protest is untimely, it will be rejected. Recently, in a published opinion and in a departure from the usual rule, the Commonwealth Court decided that equitable principles would allow a late-filed protest to be considered.

The case concerned Pa. Department of Transportation (PennDOT) inspection contracts on which Bureau Veritas (BV), the protestant, had submitted a statement of interest.  PennDOT ranked BV fifth in its statement of rankings.  BV learned of the rankings on November 13, 2014.  Seven days later, on November 20, 2014, BV filed a protest, but the email of its protest was rejected by PennDOT’s computer server due to improper formatting of the file attachment.  On November 21, 2014, BV learned of the email rejection and promptly re-sent the email with the proper formatting of the file attachment, eight days after the publication of the rankings.  PennDOT rejected BV’s protest as untimely and on the merits.  BV then argued that it should be allowed to file its protest nunc pro tunc (literally, “now for then”). PennDOT issued a final determination rejecting the protest, as well as the request that the protest be considered nunc pro tunc.  BV appealed to the Commonwealth Court. Read more

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, PennDOT, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Participation By Awardee In Bid Protest Hearing Not Improper Under Procurement Code

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In two, not-so-recent decisions involving bid protests filed under the Pa. Procurement Code, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has held that it was not improper to allow the awarded vendor to actively participate in the protests.

In the two cases, the aggrieved bidders filed protests with the Pa. Department of Corrections challenging awards for a contract for a secure telephone system for inmates housed at Department facilities.  In each case, the Secretary permitted the contract awardee to participate in the bid protest.  In one protest, the awardee was permitted to file a reply to the bid protest.

On appeal, the bidders argued in each case that the contract awardee’s participation in the protest and hearing was unlawful because, under section 1711.1 of the Procurement Code, the only proper parties to a protest are the protestant and the contracting officer, and the awardee may not participate because, under the statute, it is not an enumerated party to a protest.

The Commonwealth Court flatly rejected this argument, finding that there was no abuse of discretion in allowing the contract awardee to participate in the protest. This decision makes perfect sense.  The Procurement Code itself, at section 1711.1(e), provides that the person deciding the protest “may request and review such additional documents or information he deems necessary to render a decision and may, at his sole discretion, conduct a hearing.”  This could certainly include information from the vendor who has been awarded the contract.  In addition, as the Court noted, the Department of General Service’s Procurement Handbook permits such participation where “substantial issues are raised by the protest.”  Furthermore, by comparison, in an equity action filed to protest and enjoin a local contract award, the contract awardee is deemed to be an indispensable party and must be included in the proceeding.

So, if you intend to protest a bid or contract award under the Procurement Code, you are hereby forewarned: be prepared to fend off arguments by both the agency soliciting your bid and the entity who has been awarded the contract.

The two Commonwealth Court decisions can be found here and here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Procurement Code Is Not Violated Where Only One Price Is Considered In Contract Award

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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.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court: Bidder Qualification Criteria Can Be Waived Under Gaeta Decision

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If a public entity issues a bid and specifies that bidders must have certain minimum experience, can the public entity waive those requirements for the low bidder?  In my view, the answer is no.

Ordinarily, specified qualification criteria are for the benefit of the public and are intended to place all prospective bidders on a level playing field by informing them of the minimum qualifications and experience that are required for a contract award.  If the public entity specifies, e.g., five years’ experience in the particular work covered by the bid, bidders with less than five years’ experience will likely refrain from bidding knowing that they would be ineligible for an award.  For this reason, changing or relaxing the qualification criteria after the bids are opened is usually a no-no and a violation of the level playing field rule.  If the public entity decides, after the bid has opened, to award the contract to a bidder with, say, only three years’ experience, the public entity has effectively excluded from the bidding, unfairly and to its detriment, the pool of bidders with only three years’ experience.

In a recent, opinion dealing with a protest on a Commonwealth of Pa. RFP, JPay, Inc. v. Department of Corrections, the Commonwealth Court held that qualification criteria stated in a bid or an RFP could in fact be waived by the public entity under the Gaeta v. Ridley School District decision.  This holding breaks new ground in the area of bidder responsibility.

In 2012, the Pa. Department of Corrections issued an RFP for a turn-key “kiosk-like system” that would allow prison inmates to perform such tasks as placing commissary orders, downloading digital media, checking phone time, and receive and send emails.  The RFP required that each proposal contain an appendix detailing the offeror’s prior experience on at least three prior projects with “at least one (1) project where your firm has implemented a project of similar size and scope and one (1) project you have completed that is related to Kiosk like solutions.” The offeror was also required to include client references for each project, and to “provide examples [of] prior experience in providing MP3 players, downloadable digital entertainment (music), communication (email) and information through kiosks designed for a correctional environment” with examples and references related to the provision of those services within the previous five years. The RFP also stated that the only two requirements were mandatory: that the bid be signed and timely received.  On the other hand, the RFP reserved the right to waive technical or immaterial nonconformities in the bid. Three bids were received, and Global Tel*Link (GTL) was selected for negotiations.

One of the bidders, JPay, Inc., filed a protest, claiming among other things that GTL was not a qualified bidder. The contracting officer responded to the protest that GTL satisfactorily demonstrated its prior experience by submitting ten references which demonstrated that GTL was in the process of implementing a similar kiosk system in South Carolina prison facilities and was planning to install such a system in Kentucky by the end of 2013. The protest was denied and JPay filed an appeal to the Commonwealth Court.

On appeal, JPay’s argument was framed as follows: “JPay alleges that, based upon information it has uncovered outside the RFP process, GTL provided inaccurate information in its submission and therefore could not have met the minimum technical requirements outlined in the 2012 RFP or earned the highest technical score.”

On this point, the Commonwealth Court stated:

The Designee held that the requirement in the 2012 RFP that offerors submit information related to their prior experience was not mandatory and OA was therefore authorized to either waive this requirement or consider it in the scoring. Even assuming JPay’s allegations regarding GTL’s experience are true, we agree with the Designee’s conclusion. The text of the 2012 RFP was clear that there were only two mandatory requirements — the timeliness of receipt of the proposal and signature of the offeror on the proposal — and that OA could waive any other non-conformity, allow the offeror to cure or consider the non-conformity in the scoring. While the 2012 RFP provides that offerors “must” submit information related to their experience on prior projects, a requirement phrased in the imperative does not necessarily make the requirement mandatory.

In my view, the Court’s opinion represents a monumental shift in thinking found in numerous public bidding decisions from years past. While it is true that whether a bidder is qualified or responsible is typically a decision vested within the sound discretion of the public officials making that decision, and that courts are loathe to second guess decisions on bidder qualifications and responsibility, at the same time it has also been true that specified qualification criteria cannot be changed after the bids have been opened. To allow the criteria to be changed dramatically or waived entirely, as the Court now suggests is permitted under Gaeta, unlevels the playing field, and invites the potential for favoritism and corruption into the public bidding process.

I, for one, see great potential for harm in the court’s decision.  The holding in JPay, Inc. now opens the door wide open to the potential for all sorts of mischief hidden under the guise of public officials determining whether a bidder meets the pre-specified qualification criteria.

The Court’s decision can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Bid Specifications, Bidder Responsibility, Procurement Code, Responsibility Leave a comment

Commonwealth Court Reaffirms No Right To Hearing On Protest Filed Under Pa. Procurement Code

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Is there a right to a hearing on a bid protest filed under the Pa. Procurement Code? The answer is no.

In a recent, unreported decision involving a contract issued by the Philadelphia Parking Authority for a new red light camera system in the city of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court has re-affirmed long-standing precedent that a hearing is not mandatory on a protest filed under the Pa. Procurement Code.  Under 62 Pa. C.S. § 1711.1(e), whether to conduct a hearing is within the “sole discretion” of the head of the purchasing agency.  The Commonwealth Court also held that, under the Pa. Procurement Code, 62 Pa. C.S. § 1711.1(d),  it is not mandatory for a contracting officer to file a response to a protest before issuance of a determination by the agency head.  Finally, the Commonwealth Court found that the denial of a stay of procurement was not in error where the agency head had determined that the protest was clearly without merit and had articulated the substantial interests that would be harmed by a stay.

A copy of the Commonwealth Court decision in Am. Traffic Solutions, Inc. v. Phila. Parking Auth., can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Bid Protests, Court Decisions, Procurement Code Leave a comment