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Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

  • 1.  Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

    Posted 01-29-2020 21:42
    Fellow Engineers,

    I have been asked by a project manager for a small municipality to speak with an electrical contractor regarding lighting for a shared-use path project, which will be publicly advertised for bids.

    Up to this point, the municipality has directed me on the desired lighting and I have been looking at multiple solutions from different manufacturers.  Today, I got an email that said - "Do you mind speaking with this contractor and getting his advice?  He is likely the contractor who will bid and get this work."  I don't know if I am being overly worried, but I feel like I might be giving this contractor an unfair advantage if I meet with him.  On the other hand the project still has to be advertised and bid, so another contractor might very well have a more competitive bid.

    I welcome your perspective.

    Thank you.

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    Hale Sloan P.E., M.ASCE


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  • 2.  RE: Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

    Posted 01-30-2020 10:19
    Dear Hale,

    The fact that you're asking the question shows that you are on the right track. This is an area with substantial slippery slopes.

    I worked for a public agency in California for 30 years, mostly in design but dealt extensively with bidding and engineering support during construction.

    There were two standard ways of addressing this kind of issue.

    1. Take questions from individual contractors. If the answer was information that led to a modification of the contract documents or that information emerged that would be a competitive advantage to that bid, a bid document amendment or clarification would be issued to all bidders.

    2. There was also the option of a pre-bid conference/site visit for all bidders (usually non-mandatory). Questions asked there would be shared and answers to all in the same way, in writing following the pre-bid conference/site visit.

    Yes, having a privileged conversation with only one bidder without sharing the Q&Q would provide an unfair advantage.

    Good luck.

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    David Hook P.E., M.ASCE
    CIVIL ENGINEER
    San Jose CA
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  • 3.  RE: Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

    Posted 01-30-2020 12:13
    Hale,
       I agree with David Hook and his solution.  This may be innocent from the Village's point but it's a BAD precedent!  I was constantly fighting this sort of "help" from construction contractors as well as design consulting firms when I was at TxDOT, so you're not alone.
       TxDOT's practice was that once the contract had been let, the awarded contractor could then come in to discuss value engineering changes and improvements.  However, those changes had to benefit TxDOT specifically, not just the contractor!  If we needed information in advance, we called a public meeting just as David said.

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    James Justin Mercier, P.E.
    Life Member ASCE
    Sr. Life Member IEEE
    Austin Texas
    512-442-4016
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  • 4.  RE: Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

    Posted 01-30-2020 16:23
    First, thank you to David and James for making the time to respond. I appreciate your input.

    For clarity - I am the contracted design engineer and still in the design phase, the project will be publicly advertised for bids in the next few months.

    I did more research last night and found the article below from NSPE which, I think, is very helpful.

    https://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/ethics-resources/board-ethical-review-cases/confidentiality-discussion-potential

    The one area that is still "gray" is that if the municipality (owner) requests that an engineer consult with a specific contractor.

    I decided that I will not be contacting the contractor, unless I have a publicly advertised construct-ability meeting in which any contractor could participate.

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    Hale Sloan P.E., M.ASCE
    Owner, Principal Engineer
    Sloan Engineering and Consulting, LLC
    Hays KS
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  • 5.  RE: Engineer Contact with Contractor Prior to Public Bid Letting

    Posted 01-31-2020 12:19
    Dear Hale,

    One more thing I should have mentioned.

    During the design phase, it would be expected that you might be contacting suppliers and contractors to help formulate the requirements for items to be supplied or fabricated in the contract documents. This would be to ensure you have a well-rounded set of documents that have appropriate "or equal" requirements, etc.

    You would not want to be contacting a single contractor or supplier unless you were actively planning on doing a "sole source" specification and could document the justifications, etc. that would follow the laws in the locale of this work (state laws, at least). This can be done, but it is not trivial and good faith documentation is essential.

    Best wishes,

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    David Hook P.E., M.ASCE
    CIVIL ENGINEER
    San Jose CA
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