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Personal Services Contracts

This page provides a general overview of procedures local governments in Washington State should follow when contracting for personal services.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Purchasing and Contracting.

For more detailed information, download MRSC's publication Contracting for Services.

What are Personal Services?

Personal services involve technical expertise provided by a consultant to accomplish a specific study, project, task, or other work. These activities and products are mostly intellectual in nature, and they do not include architecture and engineering services, which have their own requirements.

Examples of personal services include, but are not limited to:

  • Comprehensive plans
  • Legal services
  • Management analyses

Certain personal services may require licensing or certification by state agencies, such as accounting, legal, or medical services.

Personal services should not be confused with purchased services, which are generally routine, repetitive, or mechanical in nature and support an agency's day-to-day operations.

Statutory Requirements for Personal Services

Only port districts and public facilities districts have statutory requirements for personal services contracts. No other local governments in Washington have statutory requirements.

Personal Services for Port Districts

Chapter 53.19 RCW establishes competitive requirements for port district personal services contracts. For details, download MRSC’s Personal Services Contracting Manual for Washington Ports.

Personal Services for Public Facilities Districts

The personal services requirements for public facilities districts (PFDs) are vague and depend on whether the PFD was created by a city or a county.

RCW 35.57.070 governs PFDs created by cities and requires the PFDs to “publish notice, establish criteria, receive and evaluate proposals, and negotiate with respondents.” The exact details must be established by district resolution, and competitive bidding is not required.

The same criteria apply for PFDs created by counties, except that RCW 36.100.180 requires competitive bidding for contracts over $150,000. The exact competitive process is not specified.

PFDs may use the general guidance on this page, subject to their statutory requirements.

Personal Services Guidelines

Local governments are encouraged to follow the guidelines on this page. However, agencies must also consider their own resolutions, policies, and procedures to determine their own local contracting requirements.

Soliciting Proposals

Local governments generally have significant flexibility in determining how to solicit competition. However, if the project includes grant funding, the grant conditions may require a specific solicitation process. Generally, the more complex or expensive the project is anticipated to be, the more rigorous the solicitation process should be.

Suggested Bid Limits and Processes

MRSC suggests that small- and medium-sized agencies use the following dollar limits and processes for personal services. However, the exact limits and processes should be tailored to each particular agency. Agencies should always document these processes for the public record, including the selection criteria, the names of firms considered, all responses received, the basis for the award decision, and a copy of the final contract.

Minimal Competition

  • Suggested dollar limit of $5,000. Some level of competition is recommended, but not required.
  • Place calls to 1-3 qualified firms or individuals describing the desired services. Request prices, schedules, and qualifications.
  • Negotiate a contract with the lowest responsible bidder.

Informal Competition

  • Suggested dollar limit of $20,000.
  • Prepare a written solicitation document including, at a minimum: a description of the required services, the project schedule, a request for the consultant’s qualifications and costs/fees, and due date for the responses.
  • Send the solicitation to 3-5 firms selected from the appropriate consultant roster or other list and ask for proposals.
  • Evaluate the proposals and negotiate a contract with the lowest responsible bidder.

Formal Competitive Bidding

  • Suggested for all contracts over $20,000.
  • Prepare a formal solicitation document such as a Request for Proposals or a Request for Qualifications. Describe all the project requirements in order for proposers to understand what the agency needs and how the responses will be evaluated.
  • Publish legal notice in major daily newspapers to notify firms of the upcoming solicitation. Develop a mailing list of all firms responding to the solicitation.
  • Post the solicitation document on the agency website (optional).
  • Develop score sheets to be used by evaluators.
  • Send the solicitation document to at least six firms, or notify at least six firms that the document is available at the agency website. If less than six firms are contacted, document the reasons.
  • Conduct a pre-proposal conference, if required, and provide answers to bidders’ questions via addenda.
  • Require sealed bids and a public bid opening. Date- and time-stamp all proposals received.
  • Evaluate proposals according to the score sheets, using at least three evaluators. Interview the top finalists, if desired.
  • Negotiate a contract with the lowest responsible bidder.

Requests for Qualifications

Requests for Qualifications (RFQs) ask only for a firm’s general capabilities, including:

  • List of principals
  • Previous projects
  • Number of employees
  • Licenses

Local governments may distribute RFQs for a services roster or as part of a formal competitive solicitation. In the case of a formal competitive solicitation, the RFQ can be combined with a Request for Proposals, or it could be distributed as the first step in the review process prior to distributing RFPs.

Requests for Proposals

Requests for Proposals (RFPs) ask proposes to submit qualifications, if not already on file, and a proposed scope of services in response to the agency’s specific needs. At a minimum, every RFP should include:

  • Statement of need (scope). This should be well-written with an adequate level of detail describing the project tasks and products, and listing the availability of supporting documents.
  • Estimated project budget. State the estimated budget, but note that the amount is only an estimate.
  • Estimated schedule. This should be realistic and closely tied to the scope.
  • Evaluation criteria. Be clear and tie the criteria to the scope. Provide the scoring criteria, and provide the decision schedule if available.
  • Proposal elements. List all the information that interested firms should submit, including the firm’s general approach to the project, a list of key personnel who would work on the project with their experience and availability, and general scope and deliverables. Keep the submittal requirements, page limitations, and due date in the same section of the RFP. Allow for flexibility in the format of responses.
  • Submittal deadline. Allow an adequate response time of 3-4 weeks. Accept electronic proposals, and acknowledge receipt of all proposals.
  • Agency’s standard terms and conditions. Attach a copy of the terms and conditions, if available, to the RFP.

Other common RFP elements include:

  • Background on the agency and project, including budgets
  • Reference documents, although large documents may be posted to a website and referenced in the document
  • Whether interviews will be included as part of the selection process
  • The pre-proposal conference schedule
  • Public disclosure guidance
  • Notice that costs incurred in the development of proposals and the selection process will be assumed by the proposers
  • Formal certification by the proposer of its authorization to submit the proposal, time validity of the proposal, non-collusion, etc.

Evaluation Criteria

Agencies may establish their own criteria for evaluating proposals. Potential evaluation criteria include, but are not limited to:

  • Fees or costs
  • Quality of previous performance
  • Ability to meet contract deadlines
  • Responsiveness to solicitation requirements
  • Compliance with statutes and rules relating to contracts or services
  • References
  • Staff readily available for the project
  • Financial capacity
  • Licensing and certification, if applicable
  • Safety record
  • Ability to meet necessary response times for unscheduled work and emergencies

Agencies should consider whether to use a review committee and whether to use weighted evaluation criteria.

Examples of Personal Service Contracts and RFPs/RFQs

Below are some examples of personal services contracts. Again, remember that port districts and PUDs have certain statutory requirements, while all other local governments do not.

For other examples, see MRSC's Sample Document Library.

Last Modified: January 23, 2023