If you are bidding on projects awarded through the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, Bureau of Building, Grounds and Real Property Management ("the Bureau"), you might not be awarded the contract, even if you are the apparent low bidder.
The Bureau is very particular about with whom it does business. Effective May 18, 2009, the Bureau has expanded the grounds for disqualifying a bidder from competition. (Link to rules.) These recent changes are highlighted below.
1.04 DISQUALIFICATION OF BIDDER: A Bidder may be disqualified for any of the following reasons:
A. Failure to comply with the bid requirements. (This provision was in 600.53 but missing in 1.04 of the Instructions to Bidders.
B. Bidder is in arrears on existing Contract with the Bureau or another state agency.
C. Bidder is, or anticipates being, in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau or another state agency.
D. Bidder has defaulted on a previous Contract.
Mississippi’s Public Procurement Statute requires award to the "lowest and best bidder". However, the Mississippi Courts have recognized that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid. Thus, state agencies have been afforded considerable deference when deciding which contractor has submitted the "lowest and best bid". One of the areas the Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized may be considered in the evaluation of bids is a contractor’s past performance record. However, in my opinion, the Bureau’s grounds for disqualification impermissibly expand the area of inquiry by seeking to penalize a contractor for exercising its contractual right to pursue a claim against the Bureau or another state agency with which the contractor has a contract.
The Bureau’s new grounds for disqualification gives it the authority to now reject a bid if the contractor "anticipates" being in litigation or arbitration. Hypothetically, this means that if a contractor has a contract with the Bureau or another state agency, writes a "claim" letter stating the contractor believes it has a right to an equitable adjustment in the contract price and/or time and subsequently submits a bid on another Bureau project, the contractor’s bid may be rejected because the letter could be construed as a sign the contractor "anticipates" being in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau. The Bureau may even require a certification as part of its bid requirements wherein the contractor must represent it does not anticipate being in litigation or arbitration with the Bureau or another state agency. The obvious intent of this provision is to discourage contractors from asserting claims against the Bureau or another state agency on construction projects. It appears the Bureau has made the decision that such draconian tactics are more effective then dealing with legitimate claims which the contractor has a right to assert under the Bureau’s contract documents.