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Sunday, March 23, 2014

First, get rid of the policitians and politics

In procurement, as in any competitive race, there are winners and there are losers. A fair race is run and won by the competitors, not the judges. Racers continue to race, even against the same known competitors, when the race is not fixed by the judges.

It sometimes is the case that fixing races is not only bad for the racers and the watchers; it can be bad for the judges, as well.

When politicians are allowed, or given the task, to pick winners, extraneous matters beyond the rules of the race cannot help but get interjected in the race.  It serves no one's interest but the lawyers and lobbyists and those who back them. In empowers all the wrong players.

Miami-Dade commissioners frustrated with refereeing bid disputes
Miami-Dade commissioners delivered a scolding Tuesday to the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, complaining of a procurement process that constantly brings well-funded lobbyist bid fights to their meetings.

With Gimenez absent from the all-day proceedings, commissioners demanded his aides find a way to ease a stream of bid protests for commissioners to referee.

“The same system we’ve been using again and again and again is obviously not working,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said as the discussion moved to a disputed vending-machine contract, the third bid protest of the day. “Because here we have another protest. Something needs to change.”

Gimenez aides, led by procurement chief Lester Sola, acknowledged some missteps in contract negotiations and solicitations under review and pledged to move as quickly as possible to get the deals approved. Privately, a top Gimenez aide noted the mayor inherited a procurement system that gives losing bidders an avenue to find fault with the process, then hire lobbyists to press an appeal before the commission.
Yes, something needs to change here, but that something is not to protest the protestors. 

The protest system is intended to outsource the policing of procurement decision-making and process to the most critical judges available: the competitors themselves. 

Moves to limit protests for the sake of minimizing protests miss the mark. Such moves simply facilitate the continued misadventures of the procurement processors.

A bid for reform (editorial)
There’s something quite refreshing about Miami-Dade County commissioners expressing dissatisfaction with the county government’s procurement process. Time was, commissioners relished these quests for lucrative deals that employed a host of lobbyists, many of whom were once staffers for county mayors or commissioners. Commissioners knew that lobbyists and bidders would contribute to their reelection campaigns and even their pet causes to curry favor.

Now, though, while some of that still goes on, the increasing frequency of contract disputes, where losing bidders challenge the winner of the selection process, seems to have taken the fun out of the game for some commissioners. Good. Maybe all that grumbling from the dais at County Hall will result in improvements in the overall procurement process. We can only hope.

Allowing losing bidders to formally challenge the winner in an appeal of a county decision long predates Mr. Gimenez. And over the years, improvements have been made to the procurement process itself. A cone of silence bans communications between the county deciders and bidders and their lobbyists after bid presentations are made. Selection committees consist of people with expertise in the service being sought by the county. Commissioners are supposed to be out of the decision loop while committees judge bids before making recommendations to them and the mayor.

Still, there are reputable firms that won’t seek county business because they find Miami-Dade’s procurement process too politicized and lobby-centric. So the county may not always be able to choose the best services and best prices because some would-be bidders opt out of the game.

The mother of all bid disputes is between CH2M Hill and AECOM Technical Services over a whopping $1.6 billion contract to oversee the county’s massive sewage-system overhaul. When CH2M Hill won the bid last year, AECOM challenged it. Mayor Gimenez assembled a new selection committee and gave the dueling bidders another chance. But when the committee chose AECOM in the second go-round, CH2M Hill challenged it in February. Meantime, the county’s crumbling sewers continue to rot.

There has to be a better way to do this. Bring yet more transparency to the selection process — a clear A-to-Z record of how a committee goes about choosing the top bidder so that fewer losers have grounds to appeal, for instance. The mayor should empanel a group of people with procurement experience to examine the current grounds for a bid challenge and find ways to reduce them while maintaining fairness for all bidders. That’s no slam dunk, but it’s doable.

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