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

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

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 Read more

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

What is the PA Unified Certification Program?

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The Pennsylvania Unified Certification Program (PA UCP) was created as a result of a change in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and is designed to provide “one-stop shopping” for firms seeking certification as a DBE in accordance with 49 CFR Part 26 and as an Airport Concession DBE (ACDBE) in accordance with 49 CFR Part 23.  These regulations are issued by the US DOT and governn its DBE program which mandates disadvantaged contractor goals in federally-funded contracts. Information on the US DOT program can be found here.

The PA UCP is comprised of all Pennsylvania recipients of funds from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The PA UCP makes all certification decisions on behalf of all agencies and organizations in Pennsylvania with respect to participation in the DBE and ACDBE Programs. In other words, firms certified as a DBE or ACDBE with the PA UCP are eligible to participate on any FAA-, FHWA-, or FTA-funded contract as a DBE or ACDBE.

The PA UCP website can be found here. Click here to learn how to become certified as a DBE or ACDBE.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in DBE/MBE/WBE Leave a comment

Philadelphia Revokes Certification Of MBE Supply Firm; Second Action In 12 Months

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In January, the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Economic Opportunity revoked the 25-year-old certification of a minority-owned supply firm and announced that it would seek to bar another contractor from receiving City contracts for three years.  The OEO’s action was reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The OEO’s revocation was the second time in 12 months that the OEO took enforcement action stemming from abuses in the City’s minority-contracting efforts.

The OEO alleges that the MBE supply firm acted essentially as a “pass-through” entity – contending that a prime contractor agreed to use the MBE supply firm for materials, but instead bought materials from a second firm and paid a 3% fee to the MBE supply firm.  The Inquirer further reported that City investigators found that the prime contractor and the non-DBE firm had generated false invoices to cover their tracks.  The City alleges that the non-DBE firm had used the MBE supply firm as a sham minority contractor on at least fourteen other city contracts.

Last year, in May 2011, the OEO had announced the voluntary 20-month debarment of a significant locally-based general contractor for failure to comply with the City’s contracting requirements. The Philadelphia Inquirer article on this suspension can be found here. The suspension in May 2011 was the first time the City had suspended a contractor, but it certainly won’t be the last.

The City’s enforcement actions mean that City contractors can no longer evade the OEO requirements on City contracts.  The OEO will closely monitor contractors for compliance, and serious sanctions may be imposed on contractors for non-compliance.

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

Renegotiation Of Prices For Contract Extension Held Unlawful; Competitive Bidding Required

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Recently, in Hanisco v. Township of Warminster, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Warminster Township improperly negotiated new pricing for an extension of a waste services contract.  The Court held that the township should have let the new contract by competitive bidding.

While the general rule is that a municipality may extend and renew public contracts without the need for competitive bidding, to do so the municipality must specify in the original bid requirements that the contract can be renewed or extended and under what terms.  If the specifications do not spell out this allowance, then the contract must be competitively bid again when it expires.

The problem in Hanisco was that, while the original 5-year waste contract allowed for two 1-year extensions, the prices for the two 1-year extensions were already set by the contract.  But in 2009, rather than adhering to these fixed prices, the township and the contractor, knowing that the prices were higher than in the marketplace, privately negotiated more favorable pricing for the two 1-year extensions in the form of a “rebate.”  This new pricing required an amendment to the contract to reflect the better pricing and to permit the township to exercise the renewal option.

In Hanisco, the Court framed the issue as follows:

The issue before this Court is whether the prices for the waste services provided by [the contractor] set forth in the 2005 Contract for the two, one-year options for 2010 and 2011 could be privately renegotiated by the parties or whether such a renegotiation required public, competitive bidding pursuant to Section 3102(a) of the [Pennsylvania Second Class Township] Code.

The Commonwealth Court held that the conduct of the township and the contractor was improper:

… the option in the instant case contained the essential terms, including price, and was a part of the competitive bidding process. This price term was definite and not open for future negotiation. Indeed, the option here was even more definite than that in Bevilacqua, where the term of the option remained open for negotiation based on the value of the improvements the concessionaire made. Here, because the Township did not exercise the option in accordance with its terms but, instead negotiated a new price, the Township and [the contractor] entered into a new contract that became subject to the Code’s mandatory public bidding requirements.

The evil which the Commonwealth Court addressed in Hanisco is the opportunity for favoritism when a municipality negotiates in private for a contract that should be competitively bid.  While the township officials may have believed that they were acting in good faith, in order to get the best deal they could for their constituents, in reality by not putting the contract out for bid the township would not know if it could have achieved even greater savings.

As the Commonwealth Court stated:

The overarching public policy encompassed by the public bidding requirements must take precedence to ensure the integrity of the process, its transparency and fairness, and to engender a greater sense of trust in government among the citizen taxpayers. While we understand that the Township wanted to provide savings to its constituents, the decision not to advertise its waste services contract for competitive bidding has prevented the parties from knowing whether greater savings could have been achieved had the contract been rebid pursuant to the Code.

The Hanisco decision can be found here.

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Court Decisions Leave a comment

Should The Prevailing Wage Act Be Amended?

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The Pa. Prevailing Wage Act mandates the payment of specified wages for publicly-funded public works contracts of $25,000 or more.  The wages are typically tied to the wages established by area collective bargaining agreements.

Currently, there are a number of proposed amendments to the Act which would alter application of the Act to different public contracts.

House Bill 709, or the “School Construction Cost Reduction Act,” would exempt school districts as a public entity required to pay prevailing wages, unless the school board votes to be subject to prevailing wage.

House Bill 1329 would raise the contract monetary limit from $25,000 to $185,000.  The $25,000 limit was set in 1961.

There are opposing viewpoints on the various proposed amendments to the Act as well as to the general concept of payment of prevailing wages on public contracts.  Viewpoints in favor of the amendments and against the Act can be found here and here.  Viewpoints in favor of the Act and opposing the proposed amendments can be found here and here.

For a non-partisan viewpoint from an economist with the nonpartisan Keystone Research Center, click here.

Needless to say, the proposed amendments would radically alter the landscape of public contracting in Pennsylvania.  Whether such an altered landscape would actually result in lower construction costs for public entities and taxpayers, without a reduction in decent, middle class wages for workers on public works projects, is an open question.  In all likelihood, the possibility of significantly lower costs on public contracts is probably just an illusion, and something touted by politicians looking for votes.

 

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Posted on by Christopher I. McCabe, Esq. in Prevailing Wage Leave a comment

PENNVEST Announces $115 Million In Water And Wastewater Projects

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On April 25, 2012, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) announced the investment of $115 million in 28 non-point source, drinking water, and wastewater projects in 17 counties.  In the PENNVEST press release, Governor Tom Gorbett is quoted:

“These projects will significantly contribute to improved waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, and will also create hundreds of new jobs that are so vital to our local communities.”

“These projects serve the dual purposes of responsible environmental stewardship and steadfast economic recovery, both of which are critical to the future of Pennsylvania.”

Of the $115 million total, $82 million is for low-interest loans and $33 million is offered as grants.

The funding comes from a combination of state funds approved by voters, federal grants to PENNVEST from the Environmental Protection Agency, and recycled loan repayments from previous PENNVEST funding awards.  This new funding will undoubtedly mean more work for public works contractors performing wastewater and utility work in Pennsylvania.

For the official PENNVEST press release, click here.

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