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Maryland Procurement Manual – 5. Solicitation

5.1 Public Advertisement and Notice
5.2 Pre-Bid/Proposal Conference
5.3 Procurement Officer and Vendor Communications
5.4 Amending the Solicitation
5.5 Accepting a Revision or Withdrawal to a Vendor’s Submitted Response
5.6 Cancelling the Solicitation
5.7 Receiving Vendors’ Responses

 

5.1 Public Advertisement and Notice

5.1.1 eMaryland Marketplace Advantage (eMMA)
Maryland conducts the majority of its procurements through eMMA, the online procurement system that provides vendors with access to State procurement information.  Through eMMA, vendors have the ability to:

  1. Complete the Small Business Reserve (SBR) self-certification;
  2. Receive notice of bid opportunities;
  3. Search for contracting opportunities;
  4. Submit some bids electronically; and
  5. Obtain some bid results online.

The procurement officer is responsible for publishing all solicitations in excess of $15,000 in eMMA.

Note:  It is recommended the procurement officer print the confirmation of the published solicitation, as well as the entire solicitation for the procurement file.

5.1.2 Bid Express (Construction)
For some MDOT State Highway Administration (SHA) construction and maintenance solicitations, vendors are required to register and utilize Bid Express. Bid Express is a web-based service for electronic bidding (e-Bidding) that allows vendors to submit bids securely from any computer, download contract documents, and immediately receive any addenda to an advertisement. The State gets instant bid tabs, ranked results and can export reports.

5.1.3 Direct Solicitation Notices – Email
Open solicitations or notices of the availability of bids or proposals may be emailed to all known potential bidders or offerors for the purpose of securing competition.  Notices of availability should indicate where and when bids or proposals are due (closing date), and generally describe the commodity, service, or construction desired, and may contain other appropriate information, including the link to eMMA to obtain the solicitation.

Best Practice Tip:  Direct Solicitation Notices should be emailed to all known potential vendors obtained through market research, direct requests from vendors, previous incumbents, MBEs, VSBEs, or other sources.  A list of all vendors directly solicited should be maintained in the procurement file for future reference.

5.1.4 Agency Website and Bid Board
Open solicitations may be posted on the agency’s website.  In addition, announcements of the availability of solicitations (usually the Key Information Summary Sheet from the solicitation) may be posted on a bulletin board (displayed in an area to which the public has access).

5.1.5 Publications and Trade Associations
An agency may publish a solicitation notice in “Contract Weekly” or “Contract Weekly Online” and any newspaper, periodical, or trade journal to reach potential bidders or offerors.

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5.2 Pre-Bid/Proposal Conference

The purpose of the pre-bid/proposal conference is to explain the procurement process to vendors including review of the specification and requirements, explaining how to complete required submission documents such as MBE and VSBE participation forms, and answering any questions vendors may have about the procurement.  If a pre-bid/proposal conference is to be held, notification should be included in the Key Information Summary Sheet of the solicitation.  Pre-bid/proposal conferences are required for solicitations with MBE goals; however, it is helpful to have a pre-bid/proposal conference for all solicitations.  Considerations for setting up a pre-bid/proposal conference:

  • Timing of Meetings – A good time frame for the pre-bid conference is 7 to 14 working days after issuance of the solicitation.  Any pre-bid/proposal conference should be held long enough after the solicitation has been issued to allow vendors time to become familiar with the contents, but sufficiently before the bid or proposal due date to allow dissemination and consideration of the pre-bid/proposal conference information in preparation of bids or proposals.
  • Site Visits – The solicitation may provide vendors with the opportunity to visit the State’s facility/location prior to submission of bids or proposals in order to provide a fuller understanding of the requirements and/or the site’s conditions.  This is usually done in conjunction with the pre-bid/proposal conference.
  • State Attendees – Pre-bid/proposal conferences should be conducted by the procurement officer or designee to explain the procurement requirements.  State program experts may attend to explain the scope of work.  MBE liaison officers could be called upon to provide information about the MBE requirements.
  • Content & Procedures/Best Practices – The procurement officer should highlight important sections of the solicitation, which may include the Key Information Summary Sheet including due dates, minimum qualifications including required licensing and certifications if any, the particular documents that must be submitted with the bid or proposal, the format and packaging of the bid or proposal, socio-economic programs that apply to the solicitation, insurance or auditing requirements, and the evaluation process.
  • Outline/Script for Conference – A script with talking points is very helpful to cover all important sections of the solicitation.  Do not read the entire solicitation word for word; however, some sections may be read in order to emphasize their importance.
    • MBE Instructions Script – if the MBE cannot attend, this script should be read by the procurement officer; and
    • Amendments – any changes to specifications or to the scope of work will be published as an Amendment and supersede the original published provision(s).  Any amendments issued prior to the pre-bid/proposal conference should be discussed.
  • Record Keeping – When a pre-bid/proposal conference is held in connection with a procurement that is expected to exceed $100,000, the procurement officer must ensure that a written record of the conference is prepared as soon as practicable and that the record is sent to all vendors who were sent a solicitation or who are known by the procurement officer to have obtained the solicitation.
  • Sign In Sheets – Vendors should sign in or provide a business card for the attendance sheet.  This document should provide space for vendors to note if they are a small, minority or veteran-owned business.  The attendance sheet should be published on eMMA and the agency’s website/bid board along with the written summary of the conference.
  • Questions and Answers – The agency may provide vendors with an opportunity to submit written questions and requests for clarification.  Establishing a deadline for submitting questions allows the agency sufficient time to develop responses and amendments, if necessary.  The agency should individually number each question or clarification and its response.  The bid/proposal due date may need to be extended if there are relevant questions and receiving the answers close to the bid or proposal due date would compromise a vendor’s ability to modify its bid or proposal based on the answers.  Vendor questions and answers will be provided to all prospective vendors through eMMA and the agency’s website/bid board.  Procurement officers should allow time for and encourage vendor questions during the conference in order to receive vendor feedback that may identify any issues requiring amendments to the solicitation.  These questions should be followed up with the procurement officer’s written answer.
Best Practice Tip:  The question deadline should be at least seven days prior to the bid or proposal due date.  Depending on the complexity of the procurement, the deadline for questions could be a longer period prior to the bid/proposal due date.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Accommodations should be made for individuals with disabilities as stated in the solicitation’s Pre-Bid/Proposal Conference Response form (Attachment A) as is practicable.

5.3 Procurement Officer and Vendor Communications

Procurement Officer – Sole Point of Contact
Prior to contract award, the procurement officer is the sole point of contact for purposes of the solicitation, including any inquiries from vendors, State officials, or members of the public.  Any State officials, including members of an evaluation committee that receive questions or comments regarding the procurement should direct those questions or comments to the procurement officer.  Likewise, any correspondences or notices regarding the procurement, including answers to questions or amendments to the solicitation, are to be issued and published only by the procurement officer.

Permissible Disclosures[43]
Before bid opening:

  1. Bids shall remain sealed; and
  2. The State may not disclose the name of a bidder.

Before the closing date for proposals, a procurement officer may not disclose the name of a person who has submitted a proposal.

After issuing the solicitation and before making a recommendation for contract award, a procurement officer may disclose to a person outside the Executive Department only:

  1. Whether a decision has been made regarding a solicitation; and
  2. Information that is available to the public under the Public Information Act.[44]

Before awarding a procurement contract based on competitive sealed proposals, the State may not disclose the contents of a proposal to any person other than a person responsible for evaluating or reviewing the proposal.

Responding to Vendor Questions
For any questions received regarding the procurement, the procurement officer should respond in writing as accurately and completely as practicable.  In preparing a response, the procurement officer should consult with State subject matter experts as needed.  Questions and responses shall be issued to all vendors known to have received the solicitation and published on eMMA with sufficient time for the answers to be taken into consideration in preparation of a bid or proposal, unless the question pertains solely to a particular vendor (e.g. how do I log into my eMMA account?).

Any response that deviates from what is provided in the solicitation shall be accompanied by a published amendment.  If any question raised issues about the solicitation that would require an amendment, the procurement officer should also consider extending the bid or proposal due date in an amendment.

Record of Solicitation Inquiries[45]
After issuing the solicitation and before contract award, a procurement officer shall record and include in the procurement file the following information from any inquiry originating from any source outside the Executive Branch:

  1. The date and time of the inquiry;
  2. The name and affiliation of the person making, or initiating the inquiry; and
  3. The substance and nature of the inquiry.

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5.4 Amending the Solicitation

Following publication, a procurement officer may find it necessary or prudent to amend the solicitation.  Amendments typically result from changes or clarifications to requirements.  Some of these changes may follow vendor questions during the question and answer period.  Procurement officers should give due consideration to vendor comments and questions in determining whether amending a solicitation is appropriate.

For bids, amendments always occur before the bid due date and should allow sufficient time for a bidder to acknowledge and accommodate the amendment in its bid. For proposals, amendments typically issue before proposals are due.  However, an amendment may be issued after a proposal due date, in which case it is distributed to only those offerors who proposed in response to the solicitation.  In such cases, a procurement officer must ensure the following: 1) the amendment is not so substantive that it would have changed a potential offeror’s decision whether to propose and 2) offerors can adjust their pricing if necessary to account for the amendment via a subsequent request for pricing, for example, a Best and Final Offer.  An amendment of sufficient magnitude and substance that is considered by the agency after receipt of proposals, may result in cancellation and reissuance of the solicitation.

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5.5 Accepting a Revision or Withdrawal to a Vendor’s Submitted Response

Before bid or proposal submission due date, a bidder or offeror may modify or withdraw its bid or proposal.[46]  After bid or proposal submission due date, a request by the bidder for a modification or withdrawal is late and may not be considered.[47]  As per COMAR, there are limited exceptions that may be considered and require written OAG approval.

A bid or proposal may be withdrawn before the bid or proposal submission due date.

Bidders may be permitted to withdraw a low bid if a mistake is clearly evident on the face of the bid but the intended correct bid is not similarly evident or the bidder submits proof which clearly and convincingly demonstrates a mistake was made.[48]

When, before an award has been made, it appears from a review of a proposal that a mistake has been made, the offeror should be asked to confirm the proposal.  If the offeror alleges a mistake, the procedures in COMAR 21.05.02.12 are to be followed.[49]

The procurement officer should consult with their AAG about requests to modify or withdraw bids or proposals.

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5.6 Cancelling the Solicitation

After solicitations are posted to eMMA, the agency may elect to cancel the invitation for bids or request for proposals under certain circumstances.  All solicitations issued by any procuring agency should include language stating that a solicitation may be cancelled as provided in regulation.

  • Cancellation Before Opening Bids or Proposals – With approval of Department head or designee, the procurement officer may cancel a solicitation when it is determined that this action is fiscally advantageous to the State or otherwise in the State’s best interest due to reasons outlined in COMAR 21.06.02.02(B)(1). The following steps are applicable to such a cancellation:
  1. Documentation – Procurement officer shall document the basis for the decision to cancel the solicitation in a procurement officer’s determination.  This determination and any associated backup documentation should be included in the procurement file.
  2. Notice to Vendors – The procurement officer shall issue a notice of cancellation to all vendors that identifies the solicitation (including reference #), briefly explains the reason for cancellation, and if appropriate, explains that opportunity will be given to compete on any re-solicitation or similar future procurements.
  3. Disposition of unopened bids/proposals – All bids or proposals received should be returned unopened to the vendors after the procurement has been concluded and any bid/proposal materials unable to be returned to the vendors should be destroyed (shredded).
  4. eMMA – The procurement shall be cancelled in eMMA and an electronic notification will go out automatically to all bidders/offerors that were originally notified of the solicitation.
  • Rejection of All Bids or Proposals After Opening – With approval of Department head or designee, the procurement officer may reject all bids or proposals when it is determined that this action is fiscally advantageous or otherwise in the State’s best interest due to reasons outlined in COMAR 21.06.02.02(C)(1).  The following steps are applicable when all bids or proposals are rejected: 
  1. Documentation – Procurement officer shall document the basis for the decision to cancel the solicitation in a procurement officer’s determination.  This determination and any associated backup documentation should be included in the procurement file.
  2. Notice to Vendors – The procurement officer shall issue a notice of rejection of all bids or proposals to all vendors that submitted bids or proposals, that identifies the solicitation (including reference #), briefly explains the reason for rejection of all bids or proposals, and if appropriate, explains that opportunity will be given to compete on any re-solicitation or similar future procurements.
  3. Disposition of opened bids/proposals – All bids or proposals that have been opened should be retained in the procurement file.  Unopened financial proposals may be returned after the procurement has been concluded, at the request of the vendor.
  4. eMMA – The procurement must be cancelled in eMMA and an electronic notification will go out automatically to all bidders or offerors that were initially notified of the solicitation.

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5.7 Receiving Vendors’ Responses

When solicitations are posted to eMMA, the solicitation should clearly state the date, time, place and method (example:  electronic submission) for delivery of the bid or proposal to the procurement officer.  Late bids or proposals may not be considered.

  • Registration of Receipt of Bids/Proposals – All bids and proposals must be received by the procurement officer at the location and by the time and date cutoff indicated in the solicitation.
  1. Storage – All bids and proposals received prior to the due date shall remain unopened and be stored in a secure location by State procurement personnel from receipt until bid or proposal opening date and time.
  2. Bidder/Offeror Confidentiality – The procuring agency’s staff shall not disclose the identity of bidders or offerors prior to bid opening or proposal award.
  3. eMMA – All electronic submissions via eMMA shall be stored in the system until bid opening occurs within eMMA.
  • Late Bids and Proposals – Any bid or proposal received after the time and date set for receipt of bids must be considered late and may not be considered for award.  Aside from exceptions outlined below, late bids, late modifications or late withdrawals shall not be considered.[50]
  1. State Personnel Exception – An exception may be made for late bids or proposals or withdrawals received prior to contract award that were late due to the action or inaction of State procurement personnel.  Any exception of a late bid, proposal or withdrawal must be approved in writing by the Office of the Attorney General.
  2. Late Modification to a Successful Bid or Proposal – Any late modification to a successful bid that make its terms more favorable to the State may be considered. Acceptance of late modifications must be approved in writing by the Office of the Attorney General.[51]
  3. Documentation – The procurement officer shall keep a record of each request for late bid acceptance, modification or withdrawal in the procurement file.

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[43] COMAR 21.05.01.05

[44] Public Information Act, MD. Code Ann, General Provisions Article, Title 4.

[45] COMAR 21.05.01.06

[46] COMAR 21.05.02.09.

[47] COMAR 21.05.02.10.

[48] COMAR 21.05.02.12.

[49] COMAR 21.05.03.03.E

[50] COMAR  21.05.02.10, 21.05.03.02(F)

[51] COMAR 21.05.02.10(B)

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