As the rough outlines of a $1 trillion infrastructure revitalization package emerge, an essential element that will ensure its success has less to do with paving and construction than it does with effectively matching a company’s capabilities with the needs of a government agency bidding out a new project.
The downside of a poor match can be costly, leading to budget overruns and schedule delays. Sometimes they are the fault of the contractor. Other times they are the fault of the agency. But one certainty is that with careful planning at the front end on both the part of the government agency and the companies bidding on projects, the largest public works program in generations will be a major success.
Taxpayers will be the beneficiaries.
As part of any infrastructure package or program to rebuild bridges and roads destroyed by recent hurricanes and subsequent flooding, Congress should direct government agencies to improve the quality and the consistency of request for proposals, or RFPs.
This issue is far from an arcane contracting matter. It could literally save millions of dollars, depending on the program. Poorly written RFPs can cause delays because they generate an excessive number of questions by the bidding companies. They may even discourage the most qualified companies from participating. They may spark protests from contractors who lose the procurement, resulting in costly delays. They can lead to cost overruns and reputation risks for the government agency and contractors.
The most current survey of government and industry professionals found plenty of room for improvement in the proposal process. Some 80 percent of proposal experts who took part in the study said draft RFPs issued by government agencies are too schematic and could be more specific in laying out the needs of the agency.
What’s more, government proposal experts who issue RFPs — and those proposal experts in industry who respond to them — overwhelmingly agreed that improving the quality and consistency of RFPs would reduce costs and result in a better value for taxpayers.
For companies bidding on government RFPs, improving the process rests squarely on whether the government can change its approach and communicate better from the outset of a procurement, according to the 2014 survey by the Association of Proposal Management Professionals.
But federal officials and industry experts diverge on how much communication is enough. Industry experts want more communication from the agency. They are reluctant to commit extensive resources to bidding on a contract unless they have as much clarity as possible.
At the same time, it’s a delicate balance for the government agency issuing the RFP, which must follow a raft of regulations and be careful not to be perceived as showing favoritism for one bidder over another.
This tension is why more than 90 percent of industry respondents surveyed wanted communications open from the issuance of the first draft RFP to the final draft of the RFP, a process that could top months or years depending on the breadth of the program. But only 60 percent of government respondents saw this as a necessary change.
The survey and report, titled “Closing the Procurement Gap,” noted “a gulf of understanding between industry and government that can be reconciled through dialogue.”
The problem is not intractable. Both agencies and contractors want the highest value for the taxpayers.
With so much treasure at stake in the infrastructure package and post-hurricane rebuilding, procurement professionals have a vital, if unsung, role to play in ensuring taxpayers are well served and the nation receives the best possible roads, bridges and highways.