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Congressman calls for open bidding (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

A Wisconsin congressman is joining a chorus of boos over a federal agency’s decision to limit bidding to two out-of-state companies for an Onalaska stimulus project.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., has asked the White House to assure open bidding on all future projects using money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. His request follows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s awarding of a $4.9 million design/build contract to Arrowhead Contracting Inc., Lenexa, Kan.

“I know based on past experience, some of these general contractors that get on the preference list, there is such a narrow universe of them,” Kind said.

Market & Johnson Inc., La Crosse, is not on the preference list because it did not respond to the service’s 2006 request for bids for a five-year, on-call construction contract.

“I don’t think it’s good at all because I’m sure there are plenty of local contractors that can do that kind of work,” said Mike Seichter, Market & Johnson project manager.

Arrowhead, which will be the general contractor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visitors center and headquarters project, was one of 15 bidders in 2006 for the multiyear contract, said Jack Reasbeck, project manager for the company. Two contractors were selected and, as a result, won the exclusive right to bid on the Onalaska job and other agency projects, he said.

Reasbeck said the process set up adequate competition for the project in Onalaska. His company and the other bidder, BlueScope Construction Inc., Kansas City, Mo., have been involved in heated bidding since winning the multiyear contract, and Arrowhead has only won one other job, a $600,000 bunkhouse project at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

“I think it was aggressively bid,” he said, “because we’ve only done one other project. It’s been on our Web site. They’ve been cleaning our clock.”

Seichter said it’s unfair to bind 2009 projects to a contract bid in 2006. He said he was unaware of the ongoing, multiyear contracts and has not bid on them.

“Maybe at the time there were some companies that were too busy,” he said, “and said, ‘No, I shouldn’t bid.’”

Kind said the process does not ensure enough competition and locks out Wisconsin bidders. He said he is pushing for an open-bidding requirement in the jobs bill that Congress is working on.

“We’re also going to be checking how the state agencies are handling it as well,” Kind said, “what kind of competitive bid processes they have in place.”

Media representatives from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes–Big Rivers Region were unavailable Monday.

Kind said he was told the multiyear contracts are designed to save time and, in the case of Onalaska, get a stimulus contract started sooner. However, he said, he is willing to take the extra time if it means future stimulus contracts are openly bid.

“I think a little competition would be healthy,” Kind said.

Reasbeck said Wisconsin contractors will have a chance to work on the Onalaska job as subcontractors to Arrowhead. Arrowhead will not perform any construction work, he said, and this spring will publicly post bid solicitations at the La Crosse Builders Exchange.

“We’re going to utilize the local market as much as we can,” Reasbeck said.

Seichter said Market & Johnson will talk to Arrowhead about subcontracting opportunities. He said he understands Reasbeck’s point about the 2006 competition but opposes any regulations on federal contracts that limit the pool of bidders.

“There is some of this money that’s spent like that, where you are able to narrow the field down to who you want or some kind of certified or selected work,” he said, “and to me that doesn’t make any sense.”

One comment

  1. I agree, it would have been great to see this go to a Wisconsin contractor. But in the construction industry, there are sometimes pre-bid qualifications and rules. The sooner the folks at Market and Johnson realize the same rules apply to them as to us mere mortals, the sooner they will be able to qualify for this work. I just hope, for the sake of the Wisconsin tradesmen, they are able to secure some of the sub-contract work through sub-contract obligations.

    Terry McGowan
    IUOE Local139

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