Operations

Are Pre-Bid Conferences Necessary?

Many public sector fleet managers have eliminated the pre-bid conference in purchasing vehicles and equipment, citing the practices of piggybacking on state contracts or joining purchasing cooperatives.

March 2010, Government Fleet - Feature

by Stephen Bennett

Is it possible to do away with pre-bid conferences?

Though it seems unlikely government fleets could dispense with the pre-purchase meetings altogether, a number of fleet managers said they had come close.

"Generally, the specs are written well enough that we don't have to have a pre-bid meeting with the vendors," said Paul Gultice, equipment mechanic supervisor for the city of Xenia, Ohio. "I think in the past 10 years we've probably had one, on a vehicle."

Often, government fleet managers said, pre-bid conferences become unnecessary because spec'ing, bid solicitation, and purchasing can be streamlined by "piggybacking" on state contracts or by joining a purchasing cooperative.

"We can coattail on State of Illinois master contracts for plow trucks, pickup trucks, pursuit vehicles, administrators' sedans anything," said Chuck Curcio, fleet maintenance supervisor for DuPage County, Ill. "It satisfies our bid process, and a lot of times, we find that it's a better price because of the larger volume."

The Suburban Purchasing Cooperative (SPC), which represents some 160 municipalities and townships in the larger Chicago region, offers much the same benefits as piggybacking on state contracts, fleet managers said. DuPage County and the Village of Glen Ellyn, Ill., are members of the cooperative.

"All the municipalities typically use the same kinds of vehicles, so the co-op will go out to bid on those common vehicles," including public works, police, fire, and other types of vehicles, said Frank Frasco, fleet manager for Glen Ellyn. The Village also makes some purchases by piggybacking on State of Illinois contracts. "Since the State has already created specifications and gone out to bid," Frasco said, "we don't have to put time and effort into creating the specifications."

Piggybacking Serves 'Utilitarian' Specs

This kind of purchasing approach is successful in large measure because of the utilitarian specs typical of government fleet vehicles.
"Obviously, in government, we're looking for bare bones," said Charles Stang, fleet administrator for the State of Ohio. "No leather seats," he said with a chuckle. "No heated seats."

That approach has allowed the city fleet of Kettering, Ohio, to dispense, generally, with pre-bid conferences, said Stephen Andrews, garage supervisor. "Almost all our vehicles are standard applications," Andrews said. "A sedan is well-defined, and we buy it off of the state bid."

The City of Kettering fleet totals 400 standard pieces of on- and off-road equipment, said Andrews. "We don't have any exceptional uses, therefore we shouldn't have any exceptional needs in vehicles. We're using a car like every other person in the City of Kettering does."

Andrews said the fleet bases dump and utility truck specs on those of construction companies. "For our dump trucks, if we're seeing exceptional wear, maybe we change the brand of plow," he said. "But the rest of that truck is going to stay pretty much the same. And if my vendor recommends a different dump body manufacturer, I can live with it, as long as the truck bed will hold seven cubic yards [of salt]."

"The only department that does some pre-bid meetings is the fire department because it's much harder at that level to compare apples to apples, one engine versus another," said Anders, noting the fire department conducts its own pre-bid meetings.

"As the fleet, we don't become involved," Andrews said, "except to talk about the chassis or the equipment components underneath it.

"What we're doing here is not rocket science," Andrews continued, "in that we tend to replace vehicles rather than try new-concept equipment. We don't think we should be spending taxpayer money testing the waters. We need to be conservative and make sure we have a well-defined product. Something that's going to be low-risk for failure. We keep our vehicles so long that if we make a mistake in buying the wrong thing, we have to live with it 10 to 15 years."

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