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Details of a Public Works Bid

There are many essential details that should be in a public works bid to assure an agency receives appropriate responses from bidders. There are also a number of regulations establishing criteria that must be included in these bids.

Many public agencies conducting solicitations on a regular basis rely on templates to ensure that they review all possible bid criteria as they develop a new solicitation. For those agencies that do not conduct bids frequently, here are some regulations and typical details that make up a solicitation.


The first step is to create the project name and number. This will identify the specific project for all notices, correspondence, responses, and award activity. We recommend that the project documents incorporate a standard page format that will appear throughout the bid document that includes project name and number, page numbering, and date. If any questions arise or addenda is published, it will be easier to direct readers to the correct version and page.

Purpose or Introduction

This section outlines the solicitation basics, including the project objectives, the estimated cost (if the agency decides to include it), the due date, time, and location for bid responses, where or how full sets of plans and specifications can be retrieved (as necessary), and the planned start and end period for the project. This is the section in which the agency should call out whether it is using a unique method of bidding, such as the small works roster, unit price contracting, or a special process authorization, for example in RCW 39.04.290.

One reason for this is to assist the winning contractor in completing an intent to pay prevailing wages. The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) now requests this information when the intent is filed, in part so L&I can review the project for the correct retainage, prevailing wage, and filing requirements. Any other preliminary details the agency wants to make known to bidders could also be placed in this section.

Instructions to Bidders and General Terms and Conditions

The details for bid responses, conditions related to performance of the work, and contracting requirements are included in this section. Generally, this will be one of the largest sections of the entire solicitation due to the amount of information conveyed.

Agencies must verify that the award is made to a responsible bidder per the criteria in RCW 39.04.350. Practicality suggests the criteria be listed in the bid so bidders recognize this crucial prerequisite. This same statute provides that agencies may incorporate supplemental bidder criteria. When used, there is a statutory requirement to include a description in the bid of the supplemental criteria, the basis for evaluation, and the deadline for bidders to appeal. RCW 39.06.020 requires the bid and contract documents convey that a prime contractor must verify this same responsibility criteria for each first-tier subcontractor, and that subcontractors of any tier must verify this responsibility criteria for each subcontractor it hires. Each contractor must also verify that subcontractors possess an electrical contractor license or an elevator contractor license, if required. The responsibility criteria and verification requirements must be included in every public works contract and passed through to every tier of subcontracts.

The prevailing wage rates must be included in bids and contract documents, per WAC 296-127-011 (5)(a). A notice that certified payrolls must be filed with L&I is also recommended, as failure to file could lead to a contractor's or subcontractor's one-year debarment.

When a contract bond is necessary, such requirement is absolutely declared in the bid documents and defines any option for waivers that may exist.  

Agencies must provide for retainage in documents for public improvement contracts pursuant to RCW 60.28.011. Note that for projects funded in whole or in part by federal transportation funds, retainage is not held. Instead, the contract bond provides the protections and payment for specified claims. Retainage may also be waived in a small works roster process; however, the agency assumes liability for claims in these situations.

Other project conditions may exist that need to be included in the bid/contract documents, such as:

  • RCW 39.30.060: Any public works bid for construction, alteration, or repair that is $1 million or more must require the contractor to name the subcontractors that were identified in the statute.
  • RCW 39.04.180: For projects with trench excavation, an adequate safety system is required and must be included in the cost estimate and bidding forms as a separate line item, not incidental to any other contract item.
  • WAC 296-127-050: For contracts of $2,500 or less, the public agency may enter into agreement with the contractor to approve a combined intent and affidavit of wages paid on behalf of L&I. The agreement must be incorporated into the bid specifications and contract document.

Forms and Submittals

A bid form for bidders’ pricing is one document that will be included in the solicitation for return with bidders’ responses. Agencies should describe other forms that may be included in the solicitation with clear instructions for submittal. Some of the more standard forms are the bid guarantee, documentation needed to support bidder responsibility or supplemental bidder criteria, subcontractor listing, and required declarations or certifications. A best practice is to require only those forms that are absolutely necessary be returned with the bid. Any that may be obtained following the bid due date will reduce chances of error, protests, or non-responsive bids.

Other Terms and Conditions

Additional matters to address in a public works bid are communications during the bid process, instructions if a pre-bid meeting is scheduled, how addenda are distributed, insurance requirements, bid protest procedures, bid withdrawal, and bid errors. In addition, include the process for contract award, notice to proceed, and payment submittals.

For additional information regarding public works bidding, see Find Your Contracting Requirements and Before You Advertise a Public Works Bid.

MRSC has many examples of bid documents in the Sample Documents section of our website. Combined with this information, an agency will be well prepared in drafting solicitations. There is no substitute, however, for the review and guidance of your own legal counsel, which we recommend as part of your process.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Judy Isaac

About Judy Isaac

Judy is MRSC's Procurement and Public Works Contracting Consultant, and she joined the organization in 2017.

Her experience in public works and public procurement includes purchasing positions with the City of Redmond and the City of Shoreline, and most recently as Purchasing Manager for KCDA Purchasing Cooperative.

Working in areas of procurement and project management has provided Judy significant experience in both the public and private sectors.

She studied Business/Accounting at Edgewood College in Wisconsin and attended the Purchasing program at Shoreline Community College for continued education. Participation in various professional organizations supplement her experience and she currently holds a Certified Professional in Supply Management (CPSM) certification through the Institute of Supply Management.