Beware imported ideas
As the purchasing world goes global, we will see an
increase in ideas and concepts from other countries. This is a good thing,
for we can learn from others. But the importation of anything, including
purchasing concepts from the United States, must be treated with some
Both Canadian and American purchasing have the same goal -
to obtain the right goods/services at the best price at the right time
from the best vendor/contractor. But each country seeks to achieve it in
different ways. Differences arise due partly to culture but primarily to
having different legal systems.
For example, Summit columnist Michael Asner,
recently wrote about an American concept, Best
and Final Offers (BAFO) (Summit, March 2001), extolling its
virtues and encouraging us to adopt this process as a way to improve
vendor offers in competitive bidding. Asner is right: we should add BAFO
to the arsenal of tools available to achieve our purchasing objectives.
However, we cannot simply copy the American system and expect it to work.
BAFO is, simply, a formalized two-step bidding process.
Bidders bid on an Invitation; the Owner shortlists the best, discusses
shortcomings with each bidder; and then, those shortlisted bid again. The
Owner chooses a winner from among the second bids. While more expensive
and time consuming, BAFO does result in more focused and better offers
from vendors. But the devil lurks in the details.
America has different laws than Canada has. They don't
have many rules governing competitive bidding and they have some
significant differences in contract law as well. Full disclosure, fair and
equal treatment of bidders and acting in good faith are good ideas in
America - in Canada, they are laws which must be followed, and when
broken, damages must be paid. In American law, your silence or failure to
object to a counter-offer "promptly" binds you to a contract on
the counter-offer terms; in Canada, we require proof of clear agreement to
each and every term and your silence cannot bind you (except in very rare
situations). In America, civil lawsuits are tried by jury and encourage
punitive damages; in Canada, only a judge tries civil cases and our law
discourages punitive damages. In America, many judges are elected; in
Canada, all judges are appointed. These differences must be taken into
account when importing purchasing ideas from other jurisdictions, or we
must face the consequences when sued by a dissatisfied bidder.
With BAFO, for example, we in Canada must first lay out in
greater detail in the Invitation or Request how the BAFO process will be
carried out. Not only must we disclose the possibilities, we must describe
all the rules and the Owner's powers. Under Canadian competitive bidding
law, if an Owner does not explicitly reserve a power or privilege to
themselves, then, after close of bidding, the Owner must live with that
absence of rules. In the US, there are no competitive bidding laws for
private companies and even public purchasing professionals are usually
only bound by policies, not laws.
Secondly, BAFO can be perceived as unequal treatment of
bidders. Therefore, we must be extremely careful to be scrupulously fair.
In ordinary competitive bidding, the greatest risk of unfairness occurs at
evaluation. In BAFO competitive bidding, there are risks of unfairness at
three separate stages:
a) who, how and why we shortlist;
b) what we say to each shortlisted bidder, and
c) who, how and why we choose the eventual winner.
In the US, the BAFO concept improves vendor offers with
little increase in legal risk. In Canada, this concept essentially triples
the risks of being sued (or of a NAFTA complaint to the Canadian
International Trade Tribunal).
But knowing the probable risks, we can take steps to
reduce them. As with all contracting, it is always potential risk and cost
versus potential reward and cost of avoiding the risk.
BAFO is one example of a good idea which we must adapt
before we use it. Purchasers in both the public and private sector should
explore potential ideas and systems - to improve procurement practices or
reveal elusive cost savings. However, before adopting these new concepst,
let's ensure they are right for our jurisdiction and environment.