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Contracting for Services Publication

December 11, 2013 by John W. Carpita, PE
Category: Purchasing and Contracting

Contracting for Services Publication

Our new Contracting for Services publication has generated a lot of interest and some great comments from folks who have downloaded it. In response to some of these comments, we have added some additional language, which is included in the current online version of the publication. One person commented that we needed to reinforce the "why" of this new publication in relation to this sentence on page 1:

"MRSC’s publications on bidding for cities and counties make only passing reference to service contracting, as there are few statutory requirements for service contracting."

We've added this language:

If there are few statutory requirements for service contracting, except as noted above, why this publication? Public funds must be spent carefully and with the overriding goal of preventing fraud, collusion, favoritism, or improvidence in the awarding of public contracts. This publication encourages fair and open competition in selecting firms to perform all types of service contracts and recommends policies for contract amendments that maintain that transparency. One of MRSC’s concerns is that, in the absence of statutory guidance, agencies become too creative in services contracting and trigger a public and legislative outcry that leads to unwarranted and draconian legislation. Our goal in this publication is to raise the quality of services contracting by local agencies in Washington State.

Another comment was directed towards encouraging the use of women, minority, and veteran-owned firms. In response, we've added this language:

 Note also that MRSC, as an organization, fully supports diversity in contracting. We feel strongly that women, minority, and veteran-owned firms, both large and small, should be given every opportunity to compete for service contracts.

Another comment about whether the document in places makes recommendations that are simply (but based on considerable experience) opinions of the author (me), or
recommended best practices prompted this additional language in the introduction:

Please note that this publication contains best practice guidelines based on the collective experience of MRSC consultants and judicious consideration of the statutes referenced above.  We have also “flagged” sections – in particular Tables B, C and D - where considerable variation in use of the practices is expected in relation to agency size and type.

We’ve added this preamble to tables B, C, and D:

This table contains a set of suggested procedures and dollar limit thresholds that are best suited for small to medium-sized agencies of all types. Agencies have great latitude in setting their own policies and procedures (except for port districts that must follow chapter 53.19 RCW for personal service contracts). Threshold dollar amounts in this table can and should be modified by an agency to fit its comfort level. Look at Appendix D for more information on reported agency threshold limits.  Recognition should be given to federal procurement limits, and conditions of a grant or of funding agency policies may  require advertising for each project.

We also added this language on pages 15&16:

Women and Minority (WMBE) and Veteran Requirements

RCW 39.80.040 contains this provision:

Such agency procedures and guidelines shall include a plan to insure that minority and women-owned firms and veteran-owned firms are afforded the maximum practicable opportunity to compete for and obtain public contracts for services. The level of participation by minority and women-owned firms and veteran-owned firms shall be consistent with their general availability within the professional communities involved.

This provision, however, was affected by the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998, now codified at RCW 49.60.400(1):

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

The level of participation requirement in RCW 39.80.040 is likely in violation of the Initiative 200 prohibition of granting preferential treatment and, as such, would be unenforceable.

Please let me (jcarpita@mrsc,org) know how we can improve our new publication or if you have any comments or questions.

About John W. Carpita, PE

Public Works Consultant John is MRSC’s resource for engineering design, purchasing and bidding issues, contract document preparation, construction contract issues, local improvement districts, sewer, water, storm drainage and solid waste issues, as well as resource conservation. He’s a registered professional engineer and has had a widely varied 42-year career as a consultant, county engineer, city engineer and project manager.



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