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Editorial: Solving the bid doc dilemma

If a guy does not know to sign his name next to the word “signature” on a bid document, there is no reason to expect him to perform even the most minor feat of critical thinking on a multimillion-dollar project.

Yet when they are preparing bid documents for construction work, public owners should remember the fellow who bids well but signs erratically, if at all.

His might be the most embarrassing example of bidding ineptitude, but there are other, less flagrant errors riddling bid docs. People turn in the wrong addendums, complete outdated bid forms or forget to turn in necessary paperwork.

They get what they deserve: bid rejection.

That is exactly what happened about two weeks ago in Racine. The city rejected the five bids submitted for exterior work on Memorial and City halls and cited nearly every example above —including the signature snafu — as a cause.

Racine will rebid the project this summer. The city might get lucky with low bids from idle builders in a slow market. But in a typical year, a second round of bids in the busy season would almost certainly come in higher.

Governments cannot be blamed for following the letter of the law. But bid docs can be both confusing and intricately detailed.

Struggling on the shifting soil of an eroding economy, building companies are stretching beyond their territories and specialties. Naturally, then, contractors are puzzling over unfamiliar forms, unexpected requirements.

The simple solution is impractical. The lure of a universal form for all government bidding ignores the fact that every jurisdiction has plenty of rules, regulations and laws peculiar to itself. But complication and confusion do not need to go hand in hand.

The people who write these forms must remember a simple rule: Do no assume knowledge.

They must understand that a clearly labeled page of step-by-step instructions can mean the difference between rejection and a low bid. They must realize construction companies are laying off people and shifting in-house responsibilities, placing in charge of bid paperwork a person who might be new to the bidding process.

The impracticality of a universal bid application should not prevent public owners from creating a standard bidding document, to which the bidder attaches separate forms to meet the specific needs of each jurisdiction. First, though, the public owners seeking bids have to recognize they should be taking half of the blame for bidding errors.

They have to see that proper bidding is an act of teamwork with contractors.

Sympathy does not go to the guy who costs himself a job by staring blankly at the dotted line. It goes to the taxpayers who might have saved thousands had he understood the instructions.

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