A. Types of Solicitations
When seeking information from vendors, it is important for Purchasing to realize the specific type of goods and/or services required and to use the appropriate type of solicitation document. There are important differences among various documents used to solicit responses from vendors: the request for information (RFI), the request for bid (RFB), and the request for proposal (RFP).
An RFI is used when you don't know exactly what you want or you don't know what is available in the marketplace. The information received as a result of the RFI may assist in determining whether a formal request for bid or proposal is necessary.
An RFB is used when you know precisely what you need and have precise requirements and specifications.
The RFP is a hybrid of these documents. An RFP is used when you have a general idea with some specifications and/or it's a large, complex project with potential for multiple solutions.
B. Overview of the RFP Process
Effective communication is the bottom line with any RFP. The process begins with your scope of work (SOW) statement (description of services) or specifications (description of goods), proposal evaluation criteria, and a recommended sources list. These are submitted to the Purchasing Office, which takes this SOW or specifications and develops a complete Request for Proposal including standard (boilerplate) contract clauses, special clauses, instructions to prospective vendors, and any requisite technical exhibits or attachments. The RFP states a specific date and time deadline for proposal receipt and often has mandatory pre-proposal meetings for vendors to attend. This meeting offers the opportunity to ask questions and gives the University a chance to determine whether any changes need to be issued (addenda) to the RFP. This is also an excellent time to conduct any requisite site visits to familiarize vendors with the project site(s).
After proposals are received, they are then evaluated against evaluation criteria, which were stipulated in the RFP. Purchasing and the department then agree on the awarded firm. Once approved, a purchase order and/or contract are processed.
After award, the department monitors the contractor's performance, approves invoices, and notifies Purchasing if any problems are encountered with vendor's performance.
C. When is an RFP Necessary
A formal RFP is not required for justified single source purchases. An RFP is rarely used for equipment or supplies at any dollar value, and is usually not required for service purchase orders under the bid limit. Additionally, certain personal services and consultant services are subject to other purchasing methodologies. Examples of situations, which may require an RFP, are purchases of specialized research, custom computer equipment, custom software, custodial services, marketing services, food services, and security services. In general, an RFP is needed when the product/services required exceed the current bid limit and the expected contract performance, terms, and conditions cannot be completely described by a detailed specification attached to a purchase order.
D. Developing the Scope of Work
The scope of work is the heart of the RFP. A well-written scope of work can do more for the success of a contract than any other part of the contracting process. A good scope of work is clear, complete, and logical enough to be understood by the vendor and department. Because it describes the details of performance, it is the yardstick against which the vendor's performance is measured. Enhancing a vendor's ability to read and understand the needs articulated in the RFP is critical to success. The RFP must be concise and clear. The structure of the document is used to keep your thoughts on track and to organize a vendor's response. Emphasize points that you feel are especially important. Organize the RFP document in numbered sections, and require the vendors to use this same numbering/sectioning format in their responses. This ensures clarity and consistency in the RFP and in the vendors' responses, and will make the evaluation and selection process easier. The department should start the process by contacting Purchasing in advance of the need in order to give ample time for the RFP process, from RFP development to contract/PO.
- Suggested Content - Introduction and general information, task description, constraints on the contractor, contractor personnel requirements, University responsibilities, special conditions, evaluation criteria.
E. Evaluation of Proposals
A prerequisite for award is that the vendor must be responsible and must submit a responsive offer. To be responsible means the vendor has the requisite business integrity, as well as financial and organizational capacities, to ensure good-faith performance. To be responsive, an offer must conform in all material respects to the RFP. Beyond these two basic criteria, the only method we have of selecting the offer most advantageous to the University is through the proposal evaluation criteria, which is published in the RFP.
Because of the nature of most goods and/or services purchased and the sealed competitive bid procedure, we must make objective comparative analyses of different vendor's proposals in justifying our recommendation for award. The recommendation for award must be defensible. This makes the drafting of reasonable and definitive evaluation criteria very important to the RFP and source selection process.
Some evaluation criteria to consider for inclusion in the RFP are as follows: (1) performance record of the contractor, (2) safety record, (3) relevant experience in providing comparable services on projects of similar size and scope, (4) overall quality of proposal, (5) pricing.
The RFP must contain a cost proposal format that allows the vendors to explicitly identify their charges for the deliverables identified in the project. Deliverables must be well defined so that all vendors can respond to the same deliverables thus allowing the University to make comparative analyses of the vendor's costs.
F. Pre-Proposal Conference
While a pre-proposal conference is not always required, it is highly recommended. If one is conducted, vendors are required to attend, or attendance may be by "invitation and urge to attend", so that we can be sure that all vendors receive the same information and we receive constructive feedback about the RFP. Although a representative from the Purchasing Office leads the conference and answers any contractual questions, the department must be represented to answer any questions about the technical aspects and performance anticipated in the scope of work detailed in the RFP. During the conference, university employees must not discuss the merits of a vendor's question, and it must be clear that nothing discussed that materially affects the RFP can be relied upon unless it is documented in a written addendum to the RFP. The University will not be bound by oral discussion surrounding a bid document. If a site visit is needed to familiarize vendors with the work site, it is normally conducted following the pre-proposal conference.
G. Proposal Opening
Proposal openings are open to the public and are scheduled two to four weeks after the pre-proposal conference. This may vary depending on the complexity of project that is being bid. Late proposals are marked with the time and date received; however, they are not opened or read and will not be considered.
H. Proposal Evaluations
After the Purchasing Office has reviewed each vendor's proposal to determine that they are complete, the proposals are then forwarded to the department and/or committee members for evaluation. During the period of evaluation and prior to award, possession of proposals and accompanying information is limited to personnel responsible for participating in the evaluation. Any communications with vendors must be approved in advance through the purchasing agent handling the bid process.
Recommendation for award must be in written form and must address how each vendor has met or failed to meet the evaluation criteria stated in the RFP. All areas of non-conformity with any terms, conditions, or listed specifications must be clearly stated in the evaluation.
To assist those individuals responsible for evaluating proposals, the Purchasing Office creates an evaluation matrix, based upon evaluation factors listed in the RFP. This matrix is a tool to assist those evaluating proposals.
When all proposals are determined to be non-responsive, all must be rejected and a new RFP issued. Negotiation is normally only permitted where effective competition is not available. However, when written evaluations support it, the Purchasing Office may authorize negotiation with each vendor whose proposal can reasonably be expected to be amended to meet the needs of the University.
J. Contract Coordination
After award, the project coordinator, who is usually named in the contract document, monitors the vendor's performance, approves invoices, and notifies the Purchasing Office if any problems are encountered. Depending on the type of service, the manner in which performance is monitored may involve any number of procedures including regular and unscheduled inspections, complaints brought to management's attention, and reports or surveys of consumers of the services.
Changing the Contract
Since the purchase order or contract incorporates the contractor's response to the RFP, these documents reflect the agreement between the parties. Amending or canceling the contract can only be accomplished under the terms and conditions of the agreement and such actions must be done through the Purchasing Office.
K. Dealing with Poor Performance
The key to rectifying poor performance is keeping good documentation. Each contract contains provisions for dealing with poor performance. Such provisions are usually cited under the default clause in a contract. Under the standard default clause, the contractor has a specified time period to correct, or provide a corrective action plan for any non-conformances identified by the project coordinator. While the project coordinator may initially deal with minor issues verbally, a written record of these occasions becomes increasingly important when the contractor's performance deteriorates to the point where it becomes necessary to cancel the entire contract or parts of it. If the contractor is clearly at fault and we have documentation to prove it, we can cancel the contract for default and hold the contractor liable for the increased costs of obtaining substitute services from another vendor. Do not hesitate to contact the Purchasing Office for advice when you have repeated problems with the contractor.
L. Terminating Without Penalty
Under a standard termination clause, the University has the option of terminating the contract without penalty for any reason with an advance written notice to the contractor. Care must be taken to read the contract clause to ensure that the stipulated number of days for written notice has been given.