Follow-up Report to the 2017-2018 Procurement Practice Review: Review of Bid Solicitation Processes
On this page
- Main points
- Assessment of implementation of the Agency’s actions
- Annex A—Office of the Procurement Ombudsman recommendations and the Agency’s responses
What we reviewed
1. In 2017-2018 the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman (OPO) conducted a procurement practice review (PPR) entitled Review of Bid Solicitation Processes.
2. In August 2020, OPO asked the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer (the Agency) to provide information regarding actions taken in response to the recommendations in the above-noted review.
3. The purpose of the follow-up exercise was to determine whether the Agency considered and took action, or developed plans, in response to the Procurement Ombudsman’s recommendations. In this regard, OPO assessed the information provided by the Agency for overall reasonableness and credibility. This report provides a summary, as well as specific examples, of progress made by the Agency in implementing the recommendations from the original review.
Why it’s important
4. There are three main reasons why reporting on progress made in response to the Procurement Ombudsman’s recommendations is important:
- It informs interested stakeholders of specific actions that organizations have taken to improve procurement practices.
- By sharing information on changes being implemented by the organizations whose practices were reviewed, OPO facilitates other federal organizations’ ability to introduce similar improvements.
- The information on the nature and extent of responses to the recommendations provides an indication of the usefulness of OPO’s reviews in promoting fairness, openness and transparency in federal procurement.
What we found
5. The Agency stated it took action in response to the two recommendations made in the original review. Using a scale provided by OPO, the Agency self-assessed the level of implementation of these actions as a mix of some completed actions with “preparations for implementation” (level 3) and “substantial implementation” (level 4). When asked for documentation to substantiate this assertion, the Agency provided OPO with supporting documentation for each action.
6. OPO published the following report in August 2018: Review of Bid Solicitations Processes
7. The objectives of this follow-up review were to determine:
- whether the Agency considered the recommendations made by the Procurement Ombudsman in the August 2018 review with respect to its procurement practices;
- whether action plans to respond to the recommendations were prepared and approved; and
- what actions were undertaken in response to the recommendations, and the extent to which each action had been monitored and completed.
8. OPO expected the Agency to have introduced changes to improve its procurement practices in response to the Procurement Ombudsman’s recommendations.
Scope, methodology and timing
9. OPO requested the Agency provide information on actions planned or implemented as a result of the recommendations in the original (i.e. August 2018) review. This report reflects actions reported to OPO by the Agency up to August 2020.
10. The approach used for follow-up exercises differs from the approach used in OPO’s procurement practice reviews. The assessment of progress made against recommendations was based upon the Agency’s self-assessment and assertions regarding its plans and actions coupled with supporting (i.e. substantiating) documentation. For each recommendation in the original review, OPO reviewed the information provided for overall reasonableness and credibility. This was done by:
- verifying whether any contradiction existed between the Agency’s assertions and information available from publicly accessible sources or obtained during the original review;
- analyzing the Agency’s responses to understand how its actions addressed the recommendations and whether there were plans to monitor the results or effectiveness of these actions or changes; and
- seeking clarification, as required, to ensure a clear understanding of the information and supporting documentation provided by the Agency.
11. This report provides an overview of the Agency’s assertions, as well as OPO’s assessment, on progress in implementing changes in response to the recommendations contained in the original review.
Assessment of implementation of the Agency’s actions
Summary of original review findings
12. The first objective of the original review was to determine whether departmental practices for requesting information from and providing information to suppliers during the solicitation period was consistent with applicable sections of the Treasury Board Contracting Policy (TBCP), Financial Administration Act and regulations made under them. The second objective was to determine whether these departmental practices supported the principles of fairness, openness and transparency.
13. OPO concluded that the Agency had a robust procurement and contracting framework which included the policies, practices, and operational tools to conduct fair and transparent procurement processes.
14. In the majority of the 25 files reviewed, the information included in the solicitation documents met requirements. One exception was noted in regard to a solicitation above $25,000 which did not include the necessary information according to the TBCP.
15. OPO noted communication between the Agency and potential bidders was conducted in a fair and transparent manner. All answers to potential bidder’s questions were shared simultaneously with other potential bidders so no bidders were provided with an unfair advantage.
16. Bidding periods were clearly established in the majority of the files reviewed. However, OPO noted one exception in regard to a requirement above $25,000 which did not have a clearly established bidding period. OPO also noted several exceptions on requirements below $25,000, which may have had an impact on the fairness of the solicitation process.
17. The vast majority of information requested by the Agency in solicitation documents was used as part of the evaluation process. However, an unnecessary administrative burden may have been placed on bidders by requiring them to submit client references that were never verified by the Agency. Nonetheless, the Agency has guidance in place to mitigate the risk of using reference checks in an unfair manner.
18. In light of these objectives and findings, two recommendations were made by OPO in the report:
- Ensure all solicitations meet the TBCP and the Agency’s Procurement and Contracting Guide requirements for establishing bidding periods, with particular emphasis on those requirements below $25,000; and
- Ensure the evaluation criteria and selection methodology are included in the solicitation documents, particularly on those requirements below $25,000.
Summary of Agency response
19. The Agency stated it took several actions to address the recommendations made in the original review.
Response to recommendations
20. The Agency reported the following completed activities:
- Communicated the findings of OPO report via internal communication channels, social media as well as their Procurement and Contracting Services (PCS) team.
- Conducted various engagements with the PCS team and business owners such as brainstorming sessions and surveys to identify requirements needed to ensure compliance with the TBCP and the Agency’s guide and other related processes and procedures.
- Developed an action plan to address both recommendations factoring in the departmental context and identifying existing documents such as templates, operating instructions and checklists that required updating, as well as needs for new documentation.
- Received approval from senior management to develop and implement a Low Dollar Value Business Owner Toolkit (LDV Toolkit) to serve as a robust supplement to the existing procurement and contracting framework.
- Completed drafting of some of the required LDV Toolkit documents. This includes a guideline document, operating instructions, solicitation and evaluation templates as well as a suite of email templates. All were designed to reflect the TBCP, as well as consider the new Directive on the Management of Procurement and the obligations established in the Agency’s Procurement and Contracting Policy and Guide.
- Conducted usability testing sessions pertaining to the LDV Toolkit and business owner feedback has been received for consideration and further iteration.
21. The Agency reported the following ongoing activities:
- Progress toward implementing initiatives to address the recommendations is self-assessed as a mix of preparing for implementation and substantial implementation (level 3 and 4). It should also be noted that products included with the LDV Toolkit such as the guideline document, operating instructions, solicitation and evaluation templates include sections that note the requirement to ensure evaluation criteria and selection methodology are included in solicitation documents with a highlight on low-dollar value requirements (i.e. below $25,000 for goods and $40,000 for services).
- The Agency is collating business owner responses from usability testing into implementable modifications to the LDV Toolkit for rollout.
- Consistent with the Directive on Mandatory Training, the Agency has identified mandatory training for its functional specialists in procurement to ensure sufficient and pertinent knowledge of the procurement legal framework. Training has been included within new employee integration plans and employee learning plans. Progress and completion are being actively tracked.
- Templates, operating instructions and checklists are being updated and implemented to incorporate adjustments identified in both recommendations as required.
22. The Agency reported the following planned activities:
- Achieve full implementation of the LDV Toolkit throughout the Agency, provide updates to senior management and confirm completion to the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman.
- Publish the LDV Toolkit in English and French on the Agency’s intranet and create a quick reference guide to increase LDV Toolkit content accessibility.
- Continue tracking the training of the Agency’s functional specialists in procurement to ensure successful completion. Also, develop business owner procurement training while recommending that senior management make it mandatory for business owners who are responsible for procurement planning, evaluation and contract management.
- PCS intends to create and facilitate training sessions for business owners to be delivered, at a minimum, to one Administrative Officer per branch.
- Perform any necessary updates as the Agency moves to a new financial system, (implementation of Systems, Applications and Products/SAP).
- Maintain communication to all staff and via social media to convey enhancements to the Agency’s procurement and contracting framework and documentation from the LDV Toolkit.
- Assistant Director, PCS to monitor LDV Toolkit feedback from business owners and put forward any measures for further enhancement.
Assessment of Agency response
23. The Agency provided sufficient documentation to support its progress on implementing recommendation 1 with most activities completed and just in need of updating or further iteration.
24. The Agency actively communicated the findings of the original OPO report with staff and stakeholders with an intent to raise awareness and bring attention to areas in need of improvement.
25. Business owners were engaged to provide them with an opportunity to question and debate issues, verify, seek clarification and contribute to new iterations of documents and tools.
26. Once an action plan was approved by senior management, development of the LDV Toolkit was initiated which resulted in guidance documentation, templates, operating instructions and checklists. Development of these products considered feedback from stakeholders to help ensure solicitation requirements for establishing bidding periods, with particular emphasis on low-dollar value requirements, were referenced and in order.
27. The Agency noted that while the LDV Toolkit implementation was originally set for an overall implementation date of April 2020, a number of factors significantly pushed back the timetable. It was determined that additional time was required to address ongoing feedback received from business owners, as well as to incorporate amendments made to the Government Contracts Regulations which saw an increase to service thresholds. The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic also impacted the advancement toward implementation as staff and stakeholders moved toward remote work arrangements. Lastly, there was a pressing need to increase election readiness activities due to the minority government at the time. All of these factors contributed to the Agency’s decision to push back the overall implementation target date of the recommendations to August 2021.
28. All product development to date has been monitored and approved by the Agency’s senior management which demonstrates an established oversight function to ensure satisfactory progress toward complete implementation of the recommendation.
29. The Agency provided sufficient documentation to support its implementation of recommendation 2.
30. To ensure evaluation criteria and selection methodology are included in the solicitation documents, particularly on low-dollar value requirements, the Agency built these elements into the LDV Toolkit documents. The Agency continues to gather feedback from business owners on this topic and will update the LDV Toolkit documents if necessary.
31. Training has been identified as an essential component comprising the Agency’s procurement and contracting framework. Specifically, mandatory training is required for functional specialists in procurement to ensure sufficient and persistent knowledge of the procurement legal framework. The Agency has also demonstrated a commitment to its training initiative by including it within its new employee onboarding and integration plan package, as well as individual employee learning plans.
32. In terms of monitoring and oversight, all new employee integration plans as well as their learning plans will now be reviewed and approved by a senior manager from PCS to ensure that adequate procurement training is identified and that progress toward completion is tracked.
33. Lastly, the Delegation of Contracting Authority will only be given to functional specialists in procurement once adequate training has been received. This demonstrates consideration toward effective oversight and establishing clear roles and responsibilities around the contracting process.
34. OPO found the Agency’s self-assessment to be reasonable and credible. The documentation provided by the Agency was sufficient to demonstrate its level of implementation of the recommendations and that actions have been both planned and taken to strengthen the fairness, openness and transparency of its procurement practices.
35. A review of evidence demonstrated a series of advancements toward meeting the recommendations made by OPO through a series of best practice initiatives such as interactive engagements with business owners, training initiatives, development of guidance documents and a series of new tools.
36. The Agency has been forthcoming with its efforts and has already pre-emptively offered updates to OPO throughout the development process to date. It is likely they will be able to keep to the new August 2021 implementation target timeline considering the work done to date and the plans they have made to position themselves for success.
Annex A—Office of the Procurement Ombudsman recommendations and the Agency’s responses
|OPO recommendations||Agency’s responses|
1. Ensure all solicitations meet the Treasury Board Contracting Policy and the Elections Canada Procurement and Contracting Guide requirements for establishing bidding periods, with particular emphasis on those requirements below $25,000.
2. Ensure evaluation criteria and selection methodology are included in the solicitation documents, particularly on those requirements below $25,000.
Elections Canada (EC) completed the following ongoing activities:
EC reported the following ongoing activities:
EC reported the following planned activities:
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