Getting Started in Public Procurement
Contractors looking for work in these tough times should keep public projects in mind. If you are not familiar with the public procurement or "bidding" process, knowing the basics will help in getting started. Most public agencies have standard policies and procedures for advertising and awarding contracts. The first step is identifying the public agencies that need your services. From there, you will need to determine how the agency advertises its projects, and the terms and conditions for the particular project.
In Florida, there are layers of government, all of which advertise and award construction work. The tricky part is that these agencies all have their own requirements. For example, State agencies such as the Florida Department of Transportation, may be subject to the requirements of statutes and administrative regulations that may not be applicable to local government agencies. In other words, public procurement in the State of Florida is not a "one size fits all" process. For local governments, including counties and municipalities, there may be purchasing ordinances and policies that apply to the particular agency. Determining what the process is for the agency you are interested in doing work for is critical.
As to finding out about an opportunity, the agency may have a list of bidders that it notifies when it has a new project to bid on. The agency may also notify bidders by way of its website or other media outlets. After a project is identified, the next step is to determine whether your firm is qualified to submit a bid. Qualifications may include things such as minimum years in business, comparable projects completed, and the ability to procure necessary bonds.
There may also be "pre-qualification" requirements to be met prior to being authorized to submit a bid. Additionally, in order to submit a bid for work that requires a contractor’s license pursuant to Florida Statutes, Chapter 489, the bidder must actually have the license at the time of the bid. It is generally not sufficient to become licensed or "qualified" at the time the work is to be performed. It should also be noted that the legal entity that intends to bid should be the entity that is licensed or qualified by a properly licensed individual. Many times bids are rejected because the contractor does not possess the right license to perform the work, or it has not been licensed for the number of years required by the advertised terms.
Beyond being "qualified" it is important to pay attention to the details as to what information and forms must be submitted as part of the bid. In addition to the pricing for the work, you may be required to supply references, a copy of your license, list key personnel and subcontractors. Failure to supply the required information may result in a rejection of your bid, even if you offered the lowest price. At the time of the advertisement, the agency will specify the deadline for submittal of the bids. If the bid is not submitted by the time and at the place specified, this is another reason why the bid could be rejected.
So for purposes of getting started, you should identify public agencies that use your services and that you are qualified to perform by law. Public agencies usually have purchasing directors or contract officers that will likely be a valuable source of information as how they do business. Dotting the "i’s" and crossing the "t’s" is of the utmost importance with respect to the bid, and each advertisement should be carefully reviewed before the bid is prepared.
Finally, after the agency has received bids by the deadline, it will usually conduct an "opening" and proceed to review the bids to determine which contractor will be awarded the work. Although there are a variety of bidding methods, construction work is typically awarded to the "lowest responsive and responsible" bidder. You can track the award by staying in contact with the person identified in the advertisement to receive such questions, however, you should also be aware that the agency may also have "cones of silence" prohibiting communication with certain individuals.
In subsequent postings, we will get into greater detail as to the process and specific issues that you may encounter. From the advertisements themselves, and all the way through the award. Challenges to the award decisions or "bid protests" may also occur. We will also discuss bid protests in greater detail.