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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Beyond the scope of the literal words of the law

Sunport remodeling audit shows holes in Albuquerque bid process
An internal audit of remodeling work at the Albuquerque airport shows the city skirted violating the letter of its own procurement rules, but raised questions about whether Sunport and administration officials brushed past the spirit of those guidelines.

The audit, completed October 26, said there’s no language in city code or bidding rules that prohibits a decision by the administration of Mayor Richard J. Berry to turn another planned construction project into a lucrative change order for Enterprise Builders Corporation.

The administration told the Albuquerque City Council that the project had been scheduled for a competitive bid. Making it a change order avoided that process and gave Enterprise the sole chance to price out the construction work. The administration began negotiating the cost of the change order before it awarded the contract for the initial work. The work covered by the change order was entirely separate from the original job.

“By treating additional work that nearly doubled the total project cost as a change order rather than a separate project,” the audit said, “the city has caused the overall integrity of the procurement process to be questioned by the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
There is a common law concept in contracting law, usually expressly mirrored in procurement regulations applicable to government contracting, that applies to a change of quantity or price or other essential term which goes "beyond the scope" of the contract or field of competition as unenforceable. In essence, it says to allow such a change is to hold that the original contract did not fully express the agreement of the parties to satisfy contract formation requirements, and/or is unenforceable to unilaterally change the contract under "illusory" contract principles.

This rule is expressed in the federal acquisition rules as well as the American Bar Association's Model Procurement Code and Regulations. New Mexico is, I believe, a state that has adopted the ABA MPC. It is also an accepted principle of government contracting expressed in many different legal and regulatory decisions.

The facts expressed in this article, which I accept at face value for the purpose of this case study, raise high vermilion flags of blatant disregard of the concept.

For another post that similarly highlighted excuses for skirting procurement laws, see See no evil:
In Wyoming, competitive bidding is required by law for major procurements exceeding $7,500 or $20,000 for an elected official. However, by obtaining a bid waiver, officials can skirt the requirement. And, as the records search showed, they often do. Regardless, officials maintain that there is nothing nefarious about how often the waiver loophole is utilized.

In a statement, Gov. Matt Mead said his administration follows “the spirit and letter” of the law and noted that the bid waivers are publicly posted online.
The spirit, and often the letter, of the procurement law might be found in the principle of limiting the scope of the contract, or field of competition when dealing with the solicitation process, if one were to look.

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