Council moves to replace low-bid contracting system

Councilman Bobby Henon - from City Hall Flickr

Councilman Bobby Henon - from City Hall Flickr

Philadelphia City Council moved along a string of bills as part of a long-running effort to reform city procurement practices that govern the distribution of government contracts issued by City Hall.

Along with the amendment of an existing bill dealing with the issue, Councilman Bobby Henon introduced a new resolution aimed at the promotion of so-called “best value” contracting.

The resolution would amend the city charter to allow the awarding of city contracts to the bidder who presented the “best value.” Current language mandates that most contracts over $25,000 in value go to the “lowest responsible bidder” – essentially forcing departments to select the cheapest, not necessarily the best or most appropriate bid.

“This is best practice all around the country,” said Councilman Derek Green, one of the resolution’s five co-sponsors. “It gives us much more flexibility.”

Value is established by past performance, according to Henon.

“Weighting past performance, including whether a vendor completed a project on time and on budget, among other factors like cost, schedule and (minority, women and disabled business) participation, will ensure that the city is getting the best bang for its buck,” said Henon, in a prepared statement.

In response to the possibility that ambiguity in the procurement change could lead to favoritism or waste, Green explained that the rigidity of the current system has its own flaws.

“Even with lowest responsible bidders, if someone submits that bid, things can still get changed on the back end,” said Green. “Cities all around the country use all kinds of characteristics to get the lowest value and best bids for the taxpayer.”

Since the proposal would amend Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter, a second ordinance would authorize the ballot question required for changes to the city’s constitutional document.

Amendments passed to an existing procurement reform bill strengthen language prioritizing Philadelphia-based businesses and penalties for shoddy work.

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