City Of Allentown Permitted To Use RFP Process For Waste Services Contract

In a decision issued on July 20, 2017, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the City of Allentown's use of the Request for Proposals (RFP) process in a contract award. In 2015, Allentown issued an RFP for the award of a Read more

Are RFQs Immune From Protest Under The Procurement Code?

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. Read more

Pennsylvania Initiates Disparity Study For Small Diverse Business Program

In June 2017, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania initiated a disparity study that will provide information to help the Department of General Services (DGS) implement the Pennsylvania's Small Diverse Business Program. The expected completion date for the disparity study is Read more

Commonwealth Court: Laches Requires Reversal Of Injunction Issued For Violation Of Separations Act

A recent decision by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania illustrates the extreme perils of waiting too long to challenge a violation of the public bidding laws. In December 2015, the West Jefferson Hill School District solicited bids for a new Read more

Regulations Issued For City of Philadelphia Best Value Contracting

On July 27, the regulations governing the City of Philadelphia's purchase of goods and non-professional services under the "best value" standard became official. Under the regulations, the Procurement Commissioner can permit a contract to be awarded under the "best value" Read more

Bid Protests

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

Subcontractor Officially Debarred From City Of Phila. Contracts

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On June 21, 2013, the City of Philadelphia debarred a subcontractor (and its owner) for violation of the City’s minority contracting rules.  The subcontractor, JHK, Inc., a subcontractor to prison health contractor Corizon Health Services, Inc., was debarred for two years for falsely representing its role as a woman-owned subcontractor in an agreement with Corizon.  JHK was supposed to provide first-aid services to prison inmates as a subcontractor to Corizon.  In fact, JHK provided no services.

Philadelphia Inspector General Amy L. Kurland had this to say about the debarment:

“This debarment sends a strong and definitive message: The City of Philadelphia will not tolerate businesses that circumvent the City’s antidiscrimination policies. We will continue working with Procurement, Finance and the Law Department to ensure that legitimate M/W/DSBEs have a fair shot at the contracting opportunities they deserve.”

Corizon itself previously entered into a $1.85 million settlement with the City and agreed to strengthen its corporate compliance program by reviewing all of its subcontracting agreements to ensure compliance with City anti-discrimination policies.  My post on that action can be found here.  The Inspector General’s executive summary of its investigation into Corizon and JHK can be found here.

In its press release, the Inspector General claims that this is the first involuntary debarment in the City’s history.  However, based on my own personal experience with the City’s Law Department, this claim is probably mistaken as I believe that, during the tenure of the late Procurement Commissioner Louis Applebaum, the City officially debarred a City prime contractor for falsifying invoices on a number of City contracts.

The lesson here? At the risk of beating a dead horse, don’t lie or cheat on public contracts, not to mention on any contract.  The risk is too great and the reward too little.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in City of Phila., DBE/MBE/WBE, Phila. Inspector General, Responsibility Leave a comment

Public Bidding 101: Bidder Responsibility

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This is one in a continuing series of posts on the basic tenets of public bidding in Pennsylvania.  The subject of today’s post is bidder responsibility.

“Responsibilty” refers to the qualifications, including competence and experience, of a bidder to perform a public contract.  Whether a bidder is responsible or qualified to receive a contract award is ordinarily left up to the discretion of the government officials in charge of awarding the contract.  The courts are extremely reluctant to overrule government decisions to disqualify a bidder as non-responsible.

The standards for bidder responsibility have been established for many years.  The criteria include financial responsibility, integrity, efficiency, industry, experience, promptness, and ability to successfully perform and complete the contract.  While some may believe that the ability to secure and post a bond is proof of their responsibility, a bond is not a substitute for the failure of a bidder to satisfy qualification criteria.  Furthermore, a bidder cannot be rejected as non-qualified unless the government officials have also first conducted an investigation into all bidders’ respective qualifications.

Bidder responsibility can be determined before bids are received, via a pre-qualificaiton process, or after the bids are received.  All bidders must be judged according to the same criteria.  A pre-qualification process may be used only if one is mandated or allowed by statute or ordinance.  Where there is no prescribed pre-qualification process, a municipal official may not exclude certain persons from bidding under the guise of a pre-qualification program.

In Harris v. City of Philadelphia, 299 Pa. 473, 149 A. 722 (1930), the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had this to say about responsibilty determinations:

We again lay down the rule that all bidders on a municipal contract must be accorded the same treatment, for not otherwise can the requirements of the statute be complied with.  The city may … accept and schedule all bids, and then, if acting in good faith, refuse to award the contract to one who is the lowest bidder, because he is not the ‘lowest responsible bidder.’  Or she may … determine in advance who are responsible bidders, and refuse to receive bids from those who, after treating all alike, she determines are not in that class.  But she may not impose conditions on one prospective bidder, which are not imposed upon all; nor may she enforce a method by which, through favoritism, one person may be conclusively authorized to bid on a pending contract, while another, equally as responsible and perhaps more so, is wholly excluded from even submitting a bid.

This rule of public bidding is as applicable today as it was in 1930.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Public Bidding 101, Responsibility Leave a comment