The Civil Engineer’s Role in a Public Bidding

Christian King / December 3, 2018

The civil engineer usually carries the major load of the work during the bidding phase of an infrastructure project. State laws govern most of what must be done, and at times local ordinances or practices result in added restrictions. The work must take place within the framework of those regulations. At the same time, the desire to obtain good bid prices from qualified contractors will also govern the engineer’s activities during the bid phase. At times the engineer must instruct the owner in the rules of public bidding.

Bid bonds are a must for construction projectsFair Treatment of All Bidders is Essential in Public Bidding

The civil engineer’s job during the bid phase may be summarized as: Help the owner find the best contractor for the project at best possible price. This typically means having a good number of bidders (to keep prices competitive), but not having those bidders believed to be unqualified to do the work. It’s a difficult line to walk.

On a public bid, one bidder cannot be favored over another. So long as any contractor meets the qualifications for submitting a bid, that contractor must have access to all the information other potential bidders have. One of the engineer’s biggest mistakes would be to fail to be fair to a contractor thought to be undesirable yet who meets the minimum standards of qualifications.

Any contractor/bidder that believes the engineer has been biased can file a bid protest, slowing the project down, and cause the owner to have to make unpleasant decisions: accept the protest and re-do the bid, or deny the protest and face a lawsuit. Fair treatment of all bidders should avoid this. They key is not to hide things, intentionally or unintentionally, from potential bidders.

Documentation of Bid Phase Activities is a Must

Adequate documentation of the engineer’s bid phase activities is essential due to our litigious business environment. The following describes the major record-keeping requirements.

  • Advertisement: Prepare the Advertisement For Bids. Research State and local laws and regulations concerning: the timing of the advertisement, the correct media to advertise in, use of Plan Rooms allowable and desirable, any special language required to satisfy funding agencies or the client. File all correspondence relating to the advertisement, and a copy of it as well.
  • Handling Bidding Documents: An accurate list of those who received Bidding Documents must be prepared and maintained. This is for the purpose of sending out addenda and clarifications. If using an outside printing company to distribute bidding documents, make sure they have a system in place to record those who purchase bidding documents and that they give this to the engineer regularly. The Plan Holders List is a public document and should be provided to anyone who asks for it. Consider faxing a copy to all plan holders weekly. This is, so potential bidders know who their competition is.
  • Pre-Bid Meeting: The pre-bid meeting is happening more and more frequently. It has almost become standard practice. It is a convenient means to provide information to all bidders, as well as to receive questions in a way that all will hear. Conduct the pre-bid meeting with a set agenda.
  • Bidder Queries: Try to have all bidder queries be submitted in writing. Oral queries and responses are a problem when it comes to treating all bidders equally. When things are in writing, they are easier to document.
  • Addenda: Any answers to bidder queries that result in the need to change contract documents (drawings or specifications) will require an addendum to answer. Addenda must be in the correct form. See the sample(s) later in this handout. Answers to bidder queries that do not result in changes to contract documents can be made by a formal written response that is not an addenda—a simple clarification.

Timely Addressing Comments Will Result in Better Bids

The time allowed for bidders to review the bidding documents, obtain quotes from suppliers and subcontractors, measure the quantities of materials, and price all portions of the work is fairly small. A delay in answering the questions of potential bidders may result in the bidders having to include extra risk factors in the pricing. Thus the owner will have less likelihood of getting the best bid from the best contractor.

Always respond to bidder queries promptly, the same day whenever possible. The response should be in writing and sent to all parties who received bidding documents. An acceptable practice that reduces the paperwork burden but still results in timely response is to accumulate questions daily and issue one response to all questions for that day (or perhaps two days on a project that is not generating many questions during the bid phase).

“The best contractor for the project at best possible price” is a good goal to govern the civil engineer’s work during the bid phase. Timely and complete responses, fair treatment of all bidders, and full documentation of the work will help that to happen.