Setting boundaries

From the April 2021 print edition

For complex public procurement projects, purchasing institutions often supplement their general procurement governance practices by establishing project-specific steering committees to provide direction and oversight to project teams.

The following principles apply to senior decision makers, whether they be part of an organization’s general oversight structure, or part of a project-specific steering committee framework, when dealing with a bidding process for major procurement projects.

General role of senior decision-makers: The overall role of senior decision makers is
to provide project oversight by facilitating a clear decision-making and delegation process in support
of project execution by project teams, and to ultimately approve the contract award recommendations of the project team when those recommendations fall within delegated authority.

Distinguishing oversight from interference: Providing senior-level oversight should be distinguished from interfering with the work of project teams, since interfering with the bid evaluation process can undermine the integrity of the process and, among other things, nullify any resulting contract award decision.

Screening for Conflicts: Senior decision makers, whether they be exercising a general oversight role, or participating as members of a project-specific steering committee, should be screened for potential conflicts in relation to specific bidding processes for which they will be a decision maker.

No authority to change ground rules: Senior decision makers should avoid revisiting their prior decisions once those decisions have been delegated and implemented. The scope of opportunity to set the rules and requirements of a tendering process is limited to the design, drafting and approval process that leads to the public release of a solicitation document and any resulting addenda issued prior to the receipt of supplier submissions. Once those rules are established and bids are received, senior decision makers do not have the authority to change the ground rules of the bidding process.

No involvement in evaluation: While senior decision makers may be involved in initial project approvals, related funding decisions, and in determining the composition of project team members for delegating the authority to execute a project, they should not be involved in the administration
of a project and, specifically, should not be involved in the evaluation process.

Structural barriers against interference: Organizations should establish structural barriers to protect against interference, and the appearance of potential interference, by senior decision makers, in the administration of a bidding evaluation process by enforcing “no-contact” protocols between senior decision makers and evaluation team members. These protocols should prohibit senior decision makers from interacting with evaluation group members in relation to the specific project during the evaluation process, or at any point prior to the ultimate contract award.

Confidentiality of evaluation team members: These “no-contact” protocols should be bolstered by maintaining the confidentiality of evaluation team members from senior decision makers
to protect against actual interference or future allegations of interference.

Mandate of evaluators: Once bid evaluation teams are properly constituted, it is those evaluation teams, and not senior decision makers, who are responsible for conducting the evaluation process. Evaluation team members are responsible for independently scoring each submission in accordance with pre-established evaluation criteria and procedures. Those evaluation procedures should be moderated by procurement advisors in accordance with proper group evaluation due diligence protocols.

Scope of oversight in relation to evaluation: It is not the role of senior decision makers to override or replace the evaluations performed by evaluation team members. The oversight role of senior decision makers should be limited to: (a) confirming that the pre-established and pre-authorized process was followed during the bidding and evaluation process; (b) providing direction in the event that steps in the evaluation process need to be rectified by evaluation team members due to procedural irregularities; (c) providing direction on matters falling beyond the mandate of the project team, particularly in relation to unforeseen events that may arise during the bidding and evaluation process; and (d) determining whether to proceed with the recommended contract award to the top-ranked respondent.

Governance of steering committees: Senior decision makers should avoid making decisions in relation to major procurement projects in an ad hoc or informal manner. Project decisions should be made in accordance with the organization’s general oversight practices or, where project-specific steering committee structures are established, in accordance with the formal procedures established for the steering committee. Steering committee decision making should be formally documented and made in accordance with formally approved meeting agendas and formally approved recommendations.
Following the above-noted protocols will help senior decision makers navigate the boundaries between proper oversight and inappropriate interference when dealing with major public procurement projects.

Paul Emanuelli is the general council of the Procurement Law office. Paul can be reached at [email protected].