Bidder’s Tools: Florida’s Public Records and Sunshine Laws
How do you monitor a public agency’s review and evaluation of bids and proposals? What right do you have to observe evaluation committees when proposals are evaluated? The answers to these questions provide assistance to bidders who want to actively monitor the award process.
First, Florida Statutes, Chapter 119, known as the Public Records law provides that bids and proposals are generally open to public inspection and copying at the time of a notice of a decision or intended decision, or within 10 days after the bid or proposal opening, whichever is earlier. While there are some limited exceptions to this general rule, bidders that want to obtain information as to their competitor’s bids or proposals can do so by making a public records request. Additionally, bidders may make public records requests for bid tabulation sheets, memorandum or other documents that reflect a review and analysis of the bids and proposals and the evaluation process. This way, you can become familiar with your competitor’s terms and conditions, and stay on top of the review process. By doing so, you will also be better positioned to assess whether there are any grounds to protest. Protests will be the subject of future postings.
Next, bidders are also entitled to sit in and observe the deliberations of evaluation committee meetings and the meetings of governing bodies. The Florida Sunshine Law (Florida Statutes, Section 286.011) generally requires that meetings of public bodies and committees with delegated authority to evaluate bids and proposals be open to the public. This means that the body or committee is required to provide public notice of scheduled meetings, and that bidders are permitted to attend the meeting. It does not necessarily mean that bidders will be afforded the right to speak at the meeting, but at a minimum, you have the right to attend as a member of the public.
Similar to obtaining public records, attending public meetings affords bidders the opportunity to stay up to speed on the review and evaluation process and may provide critical information in the event the award is protested. Note, you may not be the one to protest, but what if a competitor does and you were the selected bidder? If you attended the public meetings, you may be better positioned to assist the agency with the defense of the award.
Thus, it is important to stay on top of the award process. This is true in case you want to challenge the decision, but also in case you need to defend it.