Preparing Your Bid for Government Work

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The first rule in preparing your bid is to do it like the porcupines make love - very carefully. An invitation to bid is a legally contractual document, and submitting a bid is acceptance of that contract on your part. If you submit an erroneous bid and you are awarded a contract on the basis of it, the result may be little or no profit to you, or even serious financial loss. A government contracting officer has no authority to revise a contract price to compensate for a mistake on the consultant's part.

So, before preparing your bid, study the invitation carefully and learn exactly what is expected of you. Study every condition and all amendments.

Don't second-guess the government. If you feel that a particular service or step should be substituted in the project, don't do it. Your bid will be declared nonresponsive. Remember what I said before about the government knowing exactly what it wants, right or wrong. There is no use in attempting to delete, change, or modify any clause.

Remember, too, the rule about filling in all spaces on all forms. Here we come to what may be some impasses for you. Government perforce homogenizes everything and everyone. Not to do so would invoke criticism that some things or some people or some groups are getting special unfair consideration. So everyone is reduced to one common denominator. As a result, don't be surprised if your bid invitation looks somewhat like an invitation requesting a bid on 648 L-shaped metal office desks or 23 million standard steel paper clips. Certainly many of the questions you must answer have no bearing on the creative, innovative services and expertise that a consultant offers for sale. You may see questions like:

  1. How many local phone calls will this project entail over the next eighteen months?
  2. How many long-distance phone calls?
  3. How much do you estimate the cost of (1) to be?
  4. How much (2)?
  5. How many typewriter ribbons do you expect to use on this project?
  6. How many miles of travel will be used by the staff during the entire project? What is the cost of this travel?
Once again: you must fill in all the spaces. Stupid questions deserve stupid answers. In this case the agency is demanding stupid answers, since no one could possibly speak intelligently to these issues this early in the game. Just fill in the spaces with anything that comes into your head and the government will be satisfied that your bid is responsive to the invitation. (Bear in mind that they don't know the answers either; they only know what their budget is, and you don't.) But make certain that you will not be holding the bag by underestimating. Now the answers are easy:
  1. 3542 local calls.
  2. 1821 long-distance calls.
  3. $1428.40
  4. $4131.65
  5. 126 ribbons.
  6. 29,177 miles. $11,854.21
Take Every Precaution

If you have any question about any provision, any clause, or any language in your invitation, take it up with the agency contracting officer before you answer the bid.

If you have any difficulty with the legal language and the agency contracting officer has not answered your questions satisfactorily, you would do well to consult your attorney. In this regard, the government is not determined to trick you or do you in. It's just that the government doesn't know how to put its demands into straightforward, simple language.

So pay particular attention, for example, to the clauses that deal with default, contract changes, and disputes. We shall deal with them somewhat here, but bear in mind that our discussion cannot be exhaustive or even comprehensive, since many agencies have their own variations on some rules.

DEFAULT. A contracting officer may declare a consultant in default of contract even though it was not he but a subcontractor who defaulted. The consultant may be considered in default if he fails to perform any single provision of the contract. The agency may declare the consultant in default if he fails to make sufficient progress at any time during the project to make proper performance likely! When the consultant is in default, the government usually has no obligation to pay him any-thing, even the amount to cover his costs. Further, the government may let the contract to someone else and charge the original consultant for any excess costs involved in the process! But the most important thing about being in default is that you might concomitantly be in breach-and you can become the defendant in a law suit, and that can wipe you out.

CHANGES. You cannot make changes in the contract, but the agency can. However, the agency contracting officer must make these changes in writing. Otherwise, the purchasing agency will not allow payment on the con-tract. So, if you are awarded a contract, and if it is subsequently changed, be sure that the changes are signed by the contracting officer and that you approve these changes before you go to work on the project.

DISPUTES. Your contract will read: "Except as other-wise provided in this contract, any dispute concerning a question of fact arising under this contract shall be decided by the contracting officer." This means that you should take up anything questionable in the contract with the contracting officer before you sign it and submit it. If your disputes are unresolved, do not submit your bid! All of the above precautionary care applies as well to the proposal on a government purchase to be made by negotiation. In this case, the contracting officer must substantiate the financial stability of the consultant. So you must include your most recent balance sheet and financial statement along with your proposal.

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