"Office of the Procurement Ombudsman Helps" Stories

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 department. With the supplier's consent, OPO contacted the department 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 department to ask for a copy of the solicitation so as to submit a proposal. The department 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 department's explanation, the supplier called the Office. Working with the department 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 department. Frustrated by the department's refusal to provide information, the supplier contacted the Office. After a discussion with OPO, the department realized there had been an error in the evaluation and the supplier had in fact been correct in raising its concerns. The department 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 department 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 department expected and payment was withheld. Concerned, the supplier contacted the Office. After a discussion with OPO, the department 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 department 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 government department 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 department. 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 government department.

Supplier Testimonial

"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 department 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 government department and, through a discussion, it was agreed that security clearances were not necessary at the RFP stage. The government department 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 department 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 government department for three days. Upon returning to Canada, the supplier requested the government department make an allowance for his circumstances; the government department, however, refused to extend the deadline. The supplier then complained to our Office. OPO phoned the government department and asked that it reconsider its position. The government department 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 government department agreed to renew the SO with the supplier.

Late Payment Help from Office of the Procurement Ombudsman

A supplier complained that a federal department was late in paying its invoices. OPO phoned the government department, 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 government department advised that it had not activated the interest module on their new system. The government department 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 department, but was unsuccessful. OPO contacted the government department, 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 department 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 department. 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 government department and at some point after, a business decision was made to terminate the contract.

Supplier Testimonial

"I wanted to let you know that I finally received a departmental 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 department 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 department 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 government department 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 department extended the bidding period, it refused to change the criteria. The complainant advised the government department it would not be submitting a bid, but would bring the matter to the attention of OPO. Once OPO intervened, the government department advised it would not issue a contract in relation to the disputed RFP.

Supplier Testimonial

"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 Government Officials

Having been awarded contracts that started in one fiscal year and ended in the next, the federal department asked the supplier to provide an invoice for the work completed at the end of the first fiscal year. The government department 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 government department 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.

Supplier Testimonial

"Hi just wanted to thank you very much for your help and guidance in resolving our contract issue with the department. 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 Department and Supplier

If a standing offer (SO) is set up on a "right of first refusal" basis, the federal department must first contact the supplier offering the lowest rate. If the supplier with the lowest rate can meet the department's needs, a contract is issued. If the supplier with the lowest rate cannot meet the department'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 government department decided to contact the second supplier on the SO. The lowest-priced supplier then came to OPO and explained that because the government department 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 Stimulates Discussions between a Supplier and a Department

A construction company contacted OPO and requested alternative dispute resolution (ADR). According to the supplier, the federal department made changes to the scope of work in the contract, which required the supplier to purchase additional materials. The supplier asserted that the federal department 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 government department agreed to participate in an ADR process provided by the department.

Supplier Testimonial

"I received the attached letter from the department 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 department know that we were pursuing your assistance with this issue."

Office of the Procurement Ombudsman Encourages a Department 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 department. 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 department. The department agreed to cooperate and provided OPO with documentation of the bid evaluation. OPO determined the weighting of criteria was not clear and suggested the department review the bid again based on OPO's comments. After reviewing the bid a second time, the department concluded the bid was in fact compliant and the complainant was awarded a standing offer agreement.

Supplier Testimonial

 "J'ai reçu un appel tantôt de la part [du ministère] qui m'a informé qu'à la suite de votre rencontre, il avait été clair que l'évaluation de mon dossier n'avait pas été réalisée convenablement et que plusieurs erreurs majeures avaient été commises. Ainsi, le comité évaluateur a procédé à la réévaluation de mon dossier et je me suis qualifié pour une offre à commande. Quant à ma crainte de me voir injustement traitée dans le futur à la suite de toute cette affaire, [l'agent d'approvisionnement du ministère] m'a assuré qu'elle ferait un suivi régulier avec moi et que, si je soupçonnais quoi que ce soit, de l'en aviser immédiatement et qu'elle verrait à ce que je fasse l'objet d'un traitement équitable. Je voudrais donc vous remercier sincèrement pour l'aide, les conseils ainsi que la rapidité et l'efficacité avec laquelle vous avez traité ma plainte, et ce, malgré le fait que ça ne soit pas directement lié au mandat de l'ombudsman. Ce fut simple, facile et agréable de faire affaires avec vous."

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.

Supplier Testimonial

"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 department (department 1) pertaining to an alleged over payment for services rendered 3 years earlier. Department 1 had established a supply arrangement to be used by other departments. Suppliers were then asked to provide a maximum price ("ceiling price") for any work contracted through that supply arrangement. Department 2, as a user of that supply arrangement, was responsible for awarding and managing any resulting contract. Department 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 department 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 department 1 that supported the position of the supplier and based on that information, department 1 withdrew the request for reimbursement.

Supplier Testimonial

"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 department. 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 department issued a request for proposal (RFP) to a number of potential suppliers and requested that bids be submitted via email. The department 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 department as supporting documentation. OPO reminded the department of the federal government's contracting policy which states: "…Departments 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, Departments 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 department decided to restart the bidding process.

Supplier Testimonial

"Je vous avoue que vous avez été pour une bonne part dans l'expérience positive que j'ai vécu dans ce dossier. Si cela n'avait pas été de la qualité de votre écoute, de votre désir sincère d'aider et du support bien concret que vous m'avez offert pour m'encourager et me relancer dans le dédale des réponses parfois kafkaïenne que je recevais lors de mes premières démarches, je ne serais pas ici en train de vous écrire pour vous montrer mon plus large sourire. "