"Office of the Procurement Ombudsman Helps" Stories
The solicitation is on its way. But when?
A supplier, whose contract had expired several months earlier, was looking for the renewal he was told would be solicited shortly. "Shortly" turned into months. The supplier contacted the Office frustrated with what he perceived as a lack of accountability and caring on the part of the federal organization. With the supplier's consent, OPO contacted the federal organization who informed us the renewal in question was still moving forward despite unforeseeable delays, and that the supplier would be advised when he could begin looking for the solicitation on the Government of Canada's electronic tendering website: buyandsell.gc.ca.
Even limited tendering has to be slightly unlimited
A supplier had not been included in a list of invited suppliers for a solicitation. The supplier realized he could fulfill the requirement and approached the federal organization to ask for a copy of the solicitation so as to submit a proposal. The federal organization informed him he could not be included in the process as he had not been on the initial list of invitees. Unsure of the validity of the federal organization's explanation, the supplier called the Office. Working with the federal organization it became clear that a list of invited suppliers should not be exclusive and the supplier was included in the competitive process.
Where have all the solicitations gone?
A supplier contacted OPO concerned a monopoly might exist in a requirement category where a Request for Proposal (RFP) had not been issued in more than 20 years. OPO conducted a search of the Government's buyandsell.gc.ca website and identified several posted solicitations for the specific requirement as well as a record of a recently awarded contract. This information was relayed to the supplier which not only dispelled the monopoly myth but also informed him of where to locate government solicitations.
But I thought you meant...
Upon being informed his proposal was not successful, a supplier requested clarification from the federal organization. Frustrated by the federal organization's refusal to provide information, the supplier contacted the Office. After a discussion with OPO, the federal organization realized there had been an error in the evaluation and the supplier had in fact been correct in raising its concerns. The federal organization also realized the error had been consistently applied to all proposals it had evaluated as the criterion in question was vague and open to interpretation. While the outcome in awarding the contract did not change, the federal organization committed to ensuring future criteria would be clearer.
Why isn't that in the Statement of Work?
A supplier provided services under the contract, as required. However, the outcome was not what the federal organization expected and payment was withheld. Concerned, the supplier contacted the Office. After a discussion with OPO, the federal organization realized that while the outcome of the contract was not what it had expected, the supplier had nevertheless completed the work as stipulated in the statement of work. The federal organization agreed to pay the supplier in full.
Many of the cases brought to our attention are dealt with through this type of "go between" process. There are other cases where the parties to a contract are in disagreement and no longer communicating with one another, or if they are, communicating acrimoniously. In these cases a dispute has occurred that requires a more formal approach to help resolve it.
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman helps increase openness in the procurement Process
A supplier was not able to compete for a federal government procurement contract because of the technical specifications identified in a request for proposal (RFP). The supplier tried to contact the federal organization to explain its concerns and seek modification to the RFP. This request was refused.
Having been unsuccessful, the supplier then contacted our Office. With the supplier's written permission, OPO shared the concerns with the government federal organization. Subsequently, the specifications in the RFP were modified, which meant the supplier was able to compete for the contract as well as future contracts with that federal organization.
"By allowing [our company] to compete, your office ensured the Government of Canada is receiving a high quality solution at a competitive price. The competition will ensure Canadian taxpayers receive the best possible value for tax dollars."
Overly restrictive security clearance requirements waived
A federal organization included security clearances as a mandatory requirement in a request for proposal (RFP). A supplier contacted our Office to complain that this restricted competition. OPO called the federal organization and, through a discussion, it was agreed that security clearances were not necessary at the RFP stage. The federal organization then notified all potential suppliers that this requirement had been waived, which opened the opportunity to a broader field of potential suppliers.
Unfair deadline extended
A federal organization sent a standing offer (SO) renewal notice to a supplier at 4 p.m. on the day the SO was to expire. The supplier was traveling outside Canada at the time and was unable to respond to the federal organization for three days. Upon returning to Canada, the supplier requested the federal organization make an allowance for his circumstances; the federal organization, however, refused to extend the deadline. The supplier then complained to our Office. OPO phoned the government federal organization and asked that it reconsider its position. The federal organization acknowledged it had not considered the effect on suppliers of its decision to send the renewal notice late in the afternoon on the last day the SO. Therefore, the federal organization agreed to renew the SO with the supplier.
Late payment help from Office of the Procurement Ombudsman
A supplier complained that a federal organization was late in paying its invoices. OPO phoned the government federal organization, who apologized and explained it was implementing a new financial system that was causing payment delays. Thereafter, the supplier called OPO back to say they had received payment but no interest had been paid. Subsequent to a second call from OPO, the federal organization advised that it had not activated the interest module on their new system. The federal organization fixed the system and paid the supplier the interest owed.
Advance Contract Award Notice questioned
A representative of a supplier contacted OPO to dispute an advance contract award notice (ACAN) process. The intended contract was for professional services under $25,000, which was set-aside for Aboriginal suppliers only. The representative alleged the proposed ACAN recipient was ineligible for the set-aside and furthermore, the proposed recipient was involved in the original design and administration of the programs related to the ACAN. Prior to contacting OPO, the supplier attempted to address its concerns regarding the fairness and openness of this process with the federal organization, but was unsuccessful. OPO contacted the federal organization, who acknowledged the use of the ACAN was incorrect and addressed the complainant's concerns to their satisfaction.
Supplier (representative) testimonial
"FYI. I received this from the federal organization today concerning the firm's complaint about the ACAN. I believe my client is now satisfied and I think it is clear things would not have been resolved without the intervention of the Ombudsman's Office. So thank you once again. Best Regards."
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman's intervention ensures fairness of a contract award process
OPO received a complaint regarding intellectual property (IP) rights related to the award of a contract by a federal federal organization. The complainant claimed the winning bidder did not possess the IP rights and should have been deemed non-compliant with the terms and conditions of the request for proposal (RFP). OPO does not have the jurisdiction to determine whether IP rights have been infringed. However, OPO did contact the federal organization and at some point after, a business decision was made to terminate the contract.
"I wanted to let you know that I finally received a federal organizational response to my letter objecting to the award of a contract to a firm who we claimed had copied our Intellectual Property (IP) and called it their own. We won a victory "of sorts" when the letter confirmed that (the federal organisation) has, in accordance with the contract terms, recently accepted the firm's decision to terminate the contract. I can only surmise what dialogue occurred between the federal organisation and the awarded firm, which led to the firm electing to terminate their contract.In the meantime, I wanted to thank you for your efforts and involvement during the past process."
Bidding period extension request accepted
A supplier contacted a federal organization requesting clarification on a request for proposal (RFP); the supplier's question went unanswered for three weeks. Once the questions were answered, the supplier asked for an extension of the bid closing date. The request was denied, so the supplier contacted OPO alleging the federal organization had provided inadequate time to prepare the bid. OPO intervened and determined that the questions and answers were improperly posted on MERX™. As a result, the federal organization agreed to extend the bid closing date.
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman's findings result in cancelled award process
OPO received a complaint concerning the award of a contract resulting from a request for proposal (RFP). The complainant sought clarifications regarding a perceived restriction in one of the criteria of the RFP. Although the federal organization extended the bidding period, it refused to change the criteria. The complainant advised the government federal organization it would not be submitting a bid, but would bring the matter to the attention of OPO. Once OPO intervened, the federal organization advised it would not issue a contract in relation to the disputed RFP.
"Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. While the end result was probably not what the supplier would have liked, at least we all now know that there is integrity in the procurement process."
The Fiscal Year-end causes confusion for a supplier and federal officials
Having been awarded contracts that started in one fiscal year and ended in the next, the federal organization asked the supplier to provide an invoice for the work completed at the end of the first fiscal year. The federal organization then informed the supplier that due to policy changes, the remaining work (which had already been subject to a competitive process) would be re-competed. With the assistance of OPO, the federal organization came to the decision that the contracts in question were still valid and a second competitive process for the remaining work would be unfair and unnecessary.
"Hi just wanted to thank you very much for your help and guidance in resolving our contract issue with the federal organization. We were informed this morning by e-mail that we will be continuing to finish the work on both projects as we had hoped. I am confident that without your input and assistance we would not have had such a quick resolution. Again, many thanks for your help."
Lack of clarity causes frustration for the federal organization and supplier
If a standing offer (SO) is set up on a "right of first refusal" basis, the federal organization must first contact the supplier offering the lowest rate. If the supplier with the lowest rate can meet the federal organization's needs, a contract is issued. If the supplier with the lowest rate cannot meet the federal organization's needs, the supplier with the second lowest rate should be contacted.
In this case, after weeks of waiting for a quote from the lowest-priced supplier, the federal organization decided to contact the second supplier on the SO. The lowest-priced supplier then came to OPO and explained that because the federal organization had not given a response deadline, it should have waited for a response. With OPO's assistance, both the supplier and the federal department learned that providing a response deadline is essential in order to avoid confusion.
Procurement official testimonial
"I have not had any issues until I received this complaint and take pride in transparency. I understand your point pertaining to time sensitivity, and on all future requests I will be including a timeline for responses."
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman dtimulates discussions between a supplier and a federal organization
A construction company contacted OPO and requested alternative dispute resolution (ADR). According to the supplier, the federal organization made changes to the scope of work in the contract, which required the supplier to purchase additional materials. The supplier asserted that the federal organization did not reimburse the cost of the additional materials and that attempts to address the issue were unsuccessful. As a result of OPO's assistance, the federal organization agreed to participate in an ADR process provided by the federal organization.
"I received the attached letter from the federal organization yesterday, so they have finally responded to our request. We will pursue through the legal system from this point forward. I think it [was] still … helpful for us to have OPO, at least [to] let the people we are dealing with at the federal organization know that we were pursuing your assistance with this issue."
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman encourages a federal organization to re-evaluate a bid
OPO received a complaint regarding a request for standing offer (RFSO) and the evaluation of the bid by a federal organization. The complainant had issues with the evaluation of the bid, poor quality of the French version of the RFSO and the conduct of the debriefing. Since the issues were not related to the award of a specific contract, it was outside of OPO's mandate to proceed with an investigation. However, with the permission of the complainant, OPO contacted the federal organization. The federal organization agreed to cooperate and provided OPO with documentation of the bid evaluation. OPO determined the weighting of criteria was not clear and suggested the federal organization review the bid again based on OPO's comments. After reviewing the bid a second time, the federal organization concluded the bid was in fact compliant and the complainant was awarded a standing offer agreement.
"I received a call from [the federal organization], who informed me that as a result of your meeting, it was clear that the evaluation of my file had not been carried out properly and that several errors were committed. The evaluation committee reassessed my file and I was qualified for a standing offer. As for my fear of being treated unfairly in the future as a result of this ordeal, the [federal organizational Procurement Officer] assured me that she would follow up regularly with me and that, if I suspected anything, to inform her immediately and that she would see that things be dealt with fairly. I would like to thank you sincerely for your help, the advice and the speed and efficiency with which you have dealt with my complaint, despite the fact that it is not directly linked to the Ombudsman's mandate. Your service was simple, easy and it was pleasant to work with you." (Translation)
Office of the Procurement Ombudsman helps a supplier understand federal government procurement
A supplier seeking information on how to do business with the federal government contacted OPO. The supplier turned to OPO to gain a better understanding of the federal government procurement process. OPO provided the supplier with information and directed them to a number of useful resources.
"I just wanted to let you know that (the OPO employee) has been extremely helpful. Her professionalism and kindness is something we do not see very often these days when dealing with the government and it was refreshing to witness it. Thank you for your help and that of your team."
Over payment claim unjustified
A supplier sought OPO's help after receiving an invoice from a federal organization (federal organization 1) pertaining to an alleged over payment for services rendered 3 years earlier. Federal organization 1 had established a supply arrangement to be used by other federal organizations. Suppliers were then asked to provide a maximum price ("ceiling price") for any work contracted through that supply arrangement. Federal organization 2, as a user of that supply arrangement, was responsible for awarding and managing any resulting contract. Federal organization 1 claimed the supplier had submitted a per diem rate above the ceiling price agreed upon on in the supply arrangement. However, the supplier stated the contracting officer from federal organization 2 had provided written permission to submit a per diem rate higher than the ceiling price agreed upon in the supply arrangement. OPO provided documentation to federal organization 1 that supported the position of the supplier and based on that information, federal organization 1 withdrew the request for reimbursement.
"I just wanted to write you a quick note to let you know how impressed I was with the service provided to (our company) by your federal organization. As you know from the documentation the file in question had been bouncing around at great cost, I am sure, since April 2010. As a small business it is quite intimidating to have Her Majesty say "pay up or go to collections", particularly when we feel adamant the company acted in good faith and did nothing wrong. Having no apparent avenue of appeal, short of going to court with Her Majesty is not the best circumstance for rational decision. Your intervention I think has saved the Crown untold salary dollars dealing with the issue and produced a balanced result based on the facts of the situation. For that we thank you. I wish we had been aware of the service earlier."
Rejection of electronic bid submission unwarranted
A federal organization issued a request for proposal (RFP) to a number of potential suppliers and requested that bids be submitted via email. The federal organization rejected a supplier's bid on the basis that it was not received before the bid closing time. The supplier asserted the bid had been sent prior to the closing time and provided OPO with the email sent to the federal organization as supporting documentation. OPO reminded the federal organization of the federal government's contracting policy which states: "…Federal organizations must have the ability to demonstrate that all bid materials are received on time and in the manner prescribed in the tender/solicitation documents. In the case of electronic bids, federal organizations must also ensure that the documents are not altered, forged, changed or corrupted either intentionally or by error" (Treasury Board Contracting Policy, 4.2.15). At the time of the complaint, the contract had not yet been awarded; therefore, the federal organization decided to restart the bidding process.
"I must confess that you have been to a large extent in the positive experience I have had on this issue. If it had not been for the quality of your listening, your sincere desire to help, support, to encourage me and resubmit my request despite the often Kafkaesque bureaucratic responses that I received during my first steps, I would not be writing here to share with you my happiness." (Translation)
OPO helps supplier get much needed the attention
A supplier submitted a complaint regarding the bidding period of a solicitation for services. The supplier was concerned that the three days allocated were insufficient, particularly as an amendment to the statement of work had been issued the day before the closing date. The supplier twice requested an extension to the bidding period but both requests were denied by the federal organization. The supplier had additional concerns about the transparency of the solicitation, particularly the fact that the organization had not disclosed the names of the companies invited to bid or who had asked questions and received answers during the bidding period. With the supplier’s permission, OPO contacted the department to facilitate communication between the two parties. This resulted in the supplier leaving the conversation assured that the federal organization had understood her concerns and would take these issues into consideration in future solicitations. The supplier, satisfied with how her concerns were addressed, subsequently withdrew her complaint.
Cheque is in the mail!
A supplier contacted OPO regarding an outstanding payment for an invoice submitted two months prior. With the supplier’s permission, OPO contacted the federal organization which resulted in the supplier receiving payment shortly thereafter.
Hello? Is anybody out there?
A supplier contacted OPO because it was having difficulties getting in touch with a federal organization with which he/she had a contract. The company had recently changed its e-mail address and the company suspected this change had caused technical difficulties. OPO contacted the federal organization, which resulted in the technical difficulties being identified and addressed. The supplier received confirmation of the contract timelines and the contract was delivered accordingly.
“You are astounding, thank you so much for your in-depth response and willingness to help!”
Failing to get a proper debriefing? Call OPO!
A supplier contacted OPO raising concerns about the rejection of his/her bid. Attempts by the supplier to obtain responses to questions, which would have clarified why the bid had been rejected, had been unsuccessful. The procurement officer was unable to answer the questions yet had refused to allow the supplier to discuss with the responsible program manager. OPO communicated with the federal organization and was able to help obtain the responses the supplier had been seeking.
Federal organisation finally pays its bill!
A supplier was unsuccessful in obtaining payment for an outstanding invoice. Having followed-up repeatedly with the federal organization, the response from federal officials was always the same: “the payment is being processed”. The supplier, whose invoice was overdue by months, asked OPO to contact the organization. Through OPO’s intervention, the organization acknowledged the overdue invoice, and stated it was unclear how this particular invoice had been overlooked and not paid. The supplier was paid shortly thereafter.
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