As an independent public procurement analyst, taxpayer liaison and native of Tampa, I will tell you the war against fair, open and transparent bidding is a constant battle in public works. This problem does not exist in the private sector because the owner knows better, and pays with their own money. The government encumbers the taxpayers with foolish purchasing scams, overpriced and under-performing.
I believe administrators and “preferred vendors” ally to create what is called a “proprietary specification” favoring only one vendor — one that is through specifications unnecessarily restrictive and excludes all competition.
The Tampa Convention Center roof was reduced to one vendor through a “Sole Source” agreement with the city of Tampa, therefore eliminating all incentive for the manufacturer (Siplast) to compete. I will estimate the city spent at least 20 percent more as a result.
If the city and county were to follow bidding guidelines and safeguards, such as the Hillsborough County school system does, the incompetent “low bid contractor” is eliminated.
Hillsborough County school system requires a “Performance and Payment Bond” from the contractor, which guarantees the project will be completed to their satisfaction, and no out-of-pocket expenses are incurred by the taxpayers. That is the way it should be done. The P&P bond is roughly 1 percent of project cost and makes complete sense.
I have a very strong position against government purchasing cooperatives that are essentially commissioned salesmen/women. The more something costs, the more commission the cooperative makes. These incredibly damaging contracts are typically awarded for a period of five years, and automatically renewed.
This means that if a manufacturer signs an agreement with a university, they are locked in to all the roofs within the university’s portfolio for a full five years, with no competition. Incidentally, the taxpayer receives absolutely no additional benefit, although they’ve paid a premium.
The contract usually goes to a manufacturer that is not locally stocked, distributed or installed. That means you are effectively exporting 70 percent of each tax dollar to another state — money that could be used here for additional construction or repairs.
Manufacturers and attorneys will do anything to circumvent existing local, state and federal procurement laws already in place. This is why you are hearing about the “low-bid” problem.
Robert R. “Ron” Solomon
The writer is director of Roof Consultant’s Alliance.