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Prequalification and/or Precontact With Potential Vendors

Another decision to be made while planning RFP development is whether to contact potential bidders before writing the RFP If contact is desired, it is important that it occur prior to issuing the RFP, so that there is no appearance of favoritism in how the RFP is written or how the review of RFP bids is carried out. Once the RFP is under development or bidding is occurring, no contact with potential bidders should be permitted.

There are a couple of reasons why discussing the potential testing project with possible bidders in advance may be a good idea. First, such discussion provides a way for the agency to discuss general plans and activities for the testing program with potential bidders to gather ideas about how the program could be improved. Second, potential bidders can demonstrate ways in which their processes and procedures would permit the testing program to be carried out more effectively or efficiently It is essential that all potential vendors be given an equal opportunity to offer suggestions. The sponsoring agency should cover its own costs for these site visits so that it is not “compromised” by accepting vendor payments for travel expenses.

Other agencies may wish to convene a prerelease meeting to explain testing program plans and respond to potential bidder questions. By conducting the meeting prior to release of the RFP, the agency is in a better position to describe its testing plans and to obtain ideas from potential bidders, in the meeting itself or in follow-up communications.

A final way to obtain information from potential bidders that might influence what the RFP contains (and to notify potential bidders about the upcoming bidding opportunity) is to use a “request for information” (RFI) solicitation. An RFI permits the agency to detail its current thinking about the testing program and request ideas and information (and any issues or questions) from potential bidders without committing to a contract for actual work from any potential bidder. While this is extra work for the agency and for respondents, it is an idea-sharing opportunity that could shape the eventual RFP, better positioning respondents to win the contract for the actual work.

The RFI used might be quite detailed, seeking reactions and comments from potential bidders about these ideas. Potential bidders could provide details about how the planned work might be carried out, or suggest changes to planned activities. Or, the RFI might provide only an outline of the sponsoring agency’s goals and major activities, describing the testing project in general terms. In this case, the sponsoring agency may seek substantial input from potential bidders about approaches and activities to accomplish the broad goals.

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