Public vs. Private: Compliance
If your business responds to RFPs in the public or private sector markets, “compliance” is not an unfamiliar term to you. But, while it may have familiarity, it can also be intimidating. Especially in the public sector, you must meet every compliance requirement. If not, you’re bound to be removed from the pile of contending applicants. So, adhering to compliance requirements can oftentimes seem like a daunting responsibility.
In this article, we break down who regulates “compliance” at the highest level. We explain how compliance differs between the public and private sectors. And, we help you understand why compliance matters to procuring entities.
What Compliance Means
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, compliance means:
“the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen or to coercion”.
Now, if that statement was associated with a genie-in-a-bottle, well, we could really get behind that! “Now, genie, comply with all of the RFP’s requirements and award me the contract!” But, as we all know in procurement, compliance is nothing like rubbing a lamp.
At the federal level, the office with the primary responsibility of establishing public procurement policies is the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB was founded in 1970 and is located in Washington, DC. This office holds a great deal of responsibility. Primarily, it assists the sitting president with federal budgeting and oversees the administration’s:
- financial management,
- and regulatory policies.
Further, it’s the office that, at the highest level, sets regulations that federal agencies must abide by when they acquire goods and services.
The OFPP ensures that a federal agency “spends money wisely and eliminates waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.” This policy sets government-wide procurement policies, regulations and procedures to specifically “promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in acquisition processes”.
Beyond federal rules and regulations, each level of public government has its own set of policies that businesses need to adhere to. State, county and local laws further regulate businesses. And, not to make it any easier for businesses, these regulations are often guided by regional beliefs and are seemingly contradictory. Case in point: New Jersey laws require gas station attendants to pump gas and forbid citizens from doing it themselves, while literally next door in New York, drivers must pump their own gas as there usually are no attendants available to assist.
Any new business, or one seeking to expand into another state, or even county, should first check the area’s laws and ordinances to make sure they’re in compliance.
Public Sector Procurement
For any business vying for public contracts, compliance is everything. In order to bid on public contracts, certain requirements must be met in accordance with government policy. And, if that business is not in adherence to those rules, the bid is “non-compliant” and the firm is no longer a viable option for award.
One benefit of opting to bid in the public sector is that agencies have their regulations available to the public. So when businesses are seeking to contract with a government agency, they have the opportunity to vet their regulations and requirements first. There are instances in which a business finds they’re not compliant with a requirement. In that case, they have the opportunity to pursue that compliance requirement(s) prior to bidding on that agency’s RFP. (For example, to bid on a contract to serve as the sanitation company for Utah’s public schools, ABC agency may need to first be certified by the state of Utah.)
However, it’s also important to note that there are oftentimes instances where there’s not enough time before an RFP’s deadline to pursue a number of compliance requirements. This is why it’s always important to start bids as close to their release date and also to keep your certifications up-to-date at all times.
To provide a level and competitive playing field, federal regulations mandate that all public agencies post their RFPs publicly.
At a minimum, RFPs will include:
- a description of the government’s requirement(s),
- terms and conditions that are applicable to that contract,
- vendor requirements for responding to the RFP, and
- scoring criteria that the issuing agency will utilize in its evaluation process.
As a firm with a foot planted on either side of the procurement process, The Bid Lab can tell you firsthand that procurement teams very well may review proposals for compliance before reading a single word in the response. Why? To save time and to help eliminate bids prior to completing the substantive review. For bidders, being compliant with that agency allows your business to make it “through the front door”. Then, procurement teams can evaluate your business on merits per their evaluation criteria to determine the winning bid. Unfortunately, agencies don’t provide an opportunity to submit forms or supplemental information after the submission deadline passes. So, your business should verify adherence to compliance requirements prior to completing the remainder of the proposal.
Private Sector Procurement
In the public sector, “compliance” is mostly defined by the procuring business. (We’ll discuss mostly in the next section.) In the private sector, procuring businesses usually don’t need to comply with the same regulations set by governing agencies. Compliance rules are defined in-house per what that business’s expectations are for their project.
Because of this, companies may issue an RFP with a vendor already in mind for their project. Unlike public sector procurement, this isn’t an illegal act. For this reason, responding businesses should know who their competitors are and what they claim their competitive advantage(s) to be. In this case, you’ll be able to recognize if the procuring company prepared the RFP with the intention of working with a competitor.
More and more, especially due to increasing environmental movements, private companies are making internal compliance regulations available to the public. By doing this, the public is able to track their supply chain to verify that the company is complying with its own statements, as a form of public trust. For instance, the public can view clothing brand Patagonia’s social, sustainability and environmental programs right on their website. Furthermore, if a business would like to do business with Patagonia, they can visit the company’s available guiding principles to learn how they make decisions to operate business around the globe. We suggest always knowing your potential customer, their policies and backgrounds prior to investing time in doing business with them. And, many like Patagonia will be happy to share their compliance rules with you first, if those rules will determine who they will do business with.
Finally, since companies mostly define their compliance, the rules may be more lax when it comes to reviewing bids. Procuring companies may overlook deviations from the question. They also have the opportunity to ask the bidder to clarify their response after the fact. As in the Patagonia example used above, it might also be possible to ask for extended submission deadlines so your business can meet the compliance requirements first. Depending on the situation, private companies may be more flexible with bidding companies.
Compliance regulations do overlap as more laws that protect the public interest are established. For instance, data protection and identity verification are continuously moving to the forefront of conversations as companies offer consumer purchasing through their online means. In this case, the FTC uses law enforcement and policy initiatives to protect consumers’ personal information. Therefore, private companies must adhere to the regulations set by the federal agencies to protect their consumers’ personal information. As such, that private company will go on to issue an RFP that will ask bidders to comply with data protection and/or identity verification requirements.
During reviews, procurement teams will often break sections are out between different teams who are knowledgeable in that particular area. SMEs may review the technical scope or pricing requirements. Other times, the firm’s general counsel will review other areas. Businesses should prepare their proposals to speak to a variety of audiences.
Ensuring RFP compliance takes a lot of work, and is a necessary part of the RFP response process. We believe that all businesses should receive the level of support they need to remain competitive when responding to RFPs. Whether it’s public or private, we are here for you! Our priority is your overall success! There is no RFP too big or small for The Bid Lab. Reach out to us today and schedule a free consultation so we can help you submit a 100% compliant bid!
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