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Also known as: Full and Open Competition, FOC, competition-based procurement, competitive procurement process, competitive solicitation, competition-based purchase process, competitive contractual acquisition, Competition In Contracting Act, CICA, competitive acquisition, competitive procurement processes, competitive purchase process, competition-based acquisition, federal competitive procurement, competitive procurement methods, Request for Proposals, RFP, RFP procurement, RFP solicitation, Invitation for Bids, IFB procurement, IFB solicitation, Invitation to Bid, ITB, ITB procurement, ITB solicitation, competitive procurement policies and procedures, competitive procurement methods, Federal Acquisition Regulation, or FAR.
Ethics dictates that business be conducted with integrity, fairness, and openness, which require open communication within and among both buying and supplying organizations, ensuring a competitive procurement, and thereby give any organization a chance to compete for contracts and win. It seems like a week does not go by without one hearing a story demonstrating lapses in business ethics stories, where lucky contract winners share close friends in strategic places, as was the case of Halliburton, which was awarded billions in federal no-bid contracts during the years when Dick Cheney was its chief executive officer (CEO).
Recognizing this longstanding problem of competitive procurement becoming the exception, the US government launched the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) more than twenty years ago, to help federal agencies manage procurement more efficiently. FAR is an official document setting forth procurement policies and procedures that US Federal agencies should follow when soliciting offers (bids or proposals) for goods, products, services, or construction from qualified suppliers. Rules are delineated into eight chapters:
In response to competition becoming the exception rather than the rule in procurement, Part 6 of the FAR, Competitive Requirements, incorporated the Competition In Contracting Act (CICA). It seeks to establish full and open competition (FOC) as the standard, in order to eradicate partiality, favoritism, political lobbying, and bribery.
In light of these corporate scandals and the heightened scrutiny over corporate practices, FAR will have a greater impact on business. It contains key elements that all organizations should be aware of, whether they are conducting business with a government agency, or with private entities. Using the policies and procedures outlined by FAR, we will
The purpose of competition is to benefit your enterprise, and competition should not be promoted for the sake of competition. Indeed, in some cases, it may cost more to enter into a competitive procurement to do business directly with a supplier because of the unicity of the requested products, the inadequacy of other sources, the immediacy of your needs, or the emergency or legitimacy of circumstances. In other words, competitive procurement should be promoted pragmatism, with other methods thus becoming exceptions.
Competitive procurement is the contractual acquisition (purchase or lease) by an organization of any kind of asset, whether material (goods, products, or construction) or immaterial (services) with appropriated funds, enabling all deemed responsible sources to compete in a fair and open environment. Competitive procurement is also known as full and open competition (FOC), or competitive solicitation.
While procurement is supposed to bring fairness, impartiality, transparency, and suitability to corporate practices, a competitive procurement process will ensure the highest level of openness, thus maximizing the suitability of the requested assets or services, and the best return on investment (ROI).
There are several procurement methods that can be used to complete an acquisition. Let us define the difference between procurement methods and their supporting processes. A procurement method is the manner chosen to perform a contractual acquisition. Procurement methods could be any of the three following:
Simplified acquisitions procedures are the procurement methods used for acquisitions for which the amount does not exceed $2,500 for the micro-purchase threshold, and $100,000 for the small purchase threshold (FAR 2.101). Simplified acquisitions are equitably distributed among qualified suppliers in the local area, and purchases should not be split to avoid the requirements for competition above their respective thresholds. Minimal documentation is usually required, including a determination that the price is fair and reasonable; and material on how this determination was derived.
When do you have to put a formal solicitation process based on competition in place? You may be required, depending on your organization's purchasing policy, to use a formal solicitation and selection, i.e. competitive procurement, process for acquisitions for which the amount exceeds a certain threshold—in our case, the simplified acquisition threshold.
The competitive procurement methods available for use in fulfilling the requirement for full and open competition in the acquisition process are
Sealed bidding is a competitive procurement method used when the best value is expected to result from a selection of the lowest evaluated priced offer. It relies on a solicitation document called invitation for bids (IFB) (also known as invitation to bid [ITB], or invitation to tender [ITT]) and involves the following steps:
Sealed bids are normally solicited if
Negotiated procurement is a competitive procurement method used when the best value is expected to result from selection of technically acceptable proposals, with the lowest evaluated price, in other words, when cost is not the most important factor of evaluation.
The negotiated procurement method relies on a solicitation document called request for proposals (RFP).
This process involves the following steps:
Competitive proposals are normally solicited when
Two-step sealed bidding is competitive procurement method that is a combination of the two aforementioned competitive procurement procedures, and is designed to obtain:
Two-step sealed bids can be used in preference to negotiated procurement when all of the following conditions are present:
Because Part 6 of the FAR, formerly the Competition In Contracting Act (CICA), defines competition as the standard for procurement, other non-competitive procurement methods are considered to be exceptions, and thus should be used only under certain, well-defined conditions, and they should be carefully and thoroughly justified and documented. Contracting without providing for full and open competition is called other than full and open competition (OFOC). OFOC cannot be justified because of a failure to plan in advance, or concerns about the availability of related funds or budget.
Sole source is an example of non-competitive procurement or purchase process accomplished after soliciting and negotiating with only one source, so-called sole source, thus limiting full and open competition. Sole source solicitation constitutes a violation of the CICA unless it is justified under one of seven specific circumstances. Read further information about how to protest against sole source solicitation.
These circumstances, which can be invoked as sole source justification, are described in FAR 6.302 as follows:
Although only one of these conditions may justify setting competition aside, each and any of them present limitations that are supposed to hamper, or limit, their abuse.
If a sole source acquisition is ethical, it can shorten the acquisition process, and lead to several benefits:
As Terence said in his play, homo sum, humani a mi nihil alienum puto (I am a human being, so nothing human is strange to me). Humanity is, above all, our nature, and commerce and trade have always been accompanied by some degree of faulty business ethics. Yet, FAR has been successful, and is inspiring more and more private enterprises to exercise due diligence in their procurement practices. By maintaining a healthy level of competition, both the buying and supplying organizations will benefit.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption, fraud, abuse, waste, and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government. POGO provides an archive of investigations in many areas, a blog, and a federal contractor misconduct database. Reported facts, such as the $7,600 coffee maker and the $436 hammer, will dismay you.
"The Project On Government Oversight follows a rich tradition of assuring that the government continues to work for the people it represents. Our nation was founded on the very principle that representation and accountability are fundamental to maintaining a strong and functioning democracy. Today, these principles espoused by our founding fathers are under attack as our federal government is more vulnerable than ever to the influence of money in politics and powerful special interests."
Praise for Dina Rasor, founder and board member of POGO.
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