Digging Deeper Into FOIA

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article discussing what proposal writers should know about the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, and equivalent programs at the state level.

A proposal veteran named David Nealey sent me the following article that discusses his experience requesting public records. David explains some of his experiences and insights collecting competitive proposals, and also the challenges associated with analyzing the proposal information he collects.  -Dave Seibert

Conducting a Public Records Program

by David Nealey

Although states, counties, cities, public higher education entities, and K-12 districts (SLED) do not follow the federal government’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) per se, they all have policies regarding access to public records. Some of them even call their programs FOIA. Below are lessons learned from a six-month Public Records Program in which I requested records for 200 procurements.

Contacting customers

To understand public records policies in the states, proposal professionals do not need to visit every state’s website.  Instead you can submit requests to the contracting officer, also referred to as the procurement officer, for each RFP in which you are interested in obtaining procurement information.

Understanding public records statutes

Your requests to customers will need to reference the state’s statutes relating to access to public records.  You can find a list of the statutes on the National Freedom of Information Coalition website at http://www.nfoic.org/. As the NFOIC suggests, your requests should state which specific records you are seeking.  You will commonly want to obtain competitors’ proposals but you may also want their bid prices and evaluation scores.

Automating the request process

The easiest way to conduct procurement reviews, which I call Bid Forensics, is to store RFP information in your proposal database and use the database to send public records requests to the points of contact mentioned in RFPs.  You will also need to store your customers’ RFP titles, solicitation numbers, and publication dates in the database.

Paying public records fees

Most government agencies do not charge for researching and copying public records but some charge a small fee that depends on the number of pages and the type of documents they must copy in order to fulfill your request.  Agencies may also charge you for the media, e.g., jump drives and CDs.  These fees are usually less than thirty dollars.

Most times you will have to pay for copies of hardcopy documents.  Those fees can run in the hundreds of dollars for large procurements.  Agencies will estimate the cost of public records before they start work so you can cancel your request if the cost exceeds your budget.

Helpfulness of agencies

Most agencies are extremely helpful and will service your requests in a timely manner.  However, some agencies will make you jump through a few extra hoops that may include completing forms in which you must state how you will use their records.  Some agencies will ask you if the records will be sold to your clients, in which case they may request a portion of the fees that you obtain.

Conducting a bid forensics program

I must warn you that obtaining public records is the easy part of doing Bid Forensics (my term).  With the right tools (i.e., proposal database) you can easily request numerous public records.  However, the hard part of doing Bid Forensics is analyzing your competitors’ proposals, prices, and contracts.  Consider for example a bid package with seven 200-page proposals, a 15-page contract, and an Excel workbook with prices and scores for those seven competitors.  You will need to study all of those proposals and analyze each score – price pair.  If bids involve numerous products and labor categories, you will need to analyze each product and labor category for each competitor.

The information that you get from Bid Forensics can be invaluable as you try to help your company grow business in the SLED market.  You will need to share information with your management and track it for future use including bid/no bid decisions and pricing your proposals to win.  With software such as Microsoft Access and Excel, you can store and manage procurement data for years.  You can use infographics and dashboards created in these programs to communicate pricing and bid strategies with your teams.

David Nealey is the owner of WordSmart Business Services based in Littleton, Colorado. You can contact him directly at [email protected].

David Seibert is a professional salesperson and consultant for businesses that respond to formal procurements in non-federal markets. Dave publishes a comprehensive curriculum of online, self-paced proposal training classes, delivers onsite and online proposal training programs for dedicated proposal teams, and provides proposal and business development consulting services for businesses that want to improve their win rates. 

Dave is founder and president of The Seibert Group, a proposal consulting and training organization serving businesses that sell to other businesses, A/E/C firms, schools, and to state and local governments. Dave authored the popular proposal book, Proposal Best Practices, is active with the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), and is a member of the APMP Speakers Bureau. You can contact Dave at [email protected].

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