Go to previous section of document Link to chapter contents   Go to next section of document

4.2 The Purchasing Process

4.2.1 Planning

A certain amount of planning is central to the success of any purchase. See Chapter 2 for information regarding purchase planning, supplier-selection strategies, contract types, etc.

4.2.2 Solicitations

4.2.2.a General. The solicitation should clearly state the needs of the Postal Service and clearly communicate how proposals will be evaluated, including whether extra evaluation credit may be given for technical solutions that exceed the requirements of the solicitation (see 2.1.7.b.3). If oral presentations (see 4.2.4) will be part of the evaluation, suppliers should be made aware of what will be discussed (including price, if applicable) during the presentations.

4.2.2.b Types. Solicitations for proposals or quotations may be done in writing or orally.

1. Written Solicitations. Because written solicitations provide a clearer understanding of the requirement, they should be used whenever practicable. Purchasing teams are strongly encouraged to consider the use of oral presentations to reduce cycle times and improve understanding of proposals. Form 8203, Order/Solicitation/Offer/Award, or equivalent should be used as the request for proposal and subsequent contract.

2. Oral Solicitations. An oral solicitation may be used when a written solicitation would be impracticable, as when processing a written solicitation would cause a delay detrimental to the Postal Service, or a standing price quotation is being verified. In these cases, Form 8203 is used as a purchase order.

3. Standing Price Quotations. When it is the practice for suppliers to furnish standing price quotations on supplies or services required on a recurring basis, this information may be used instead of issuing a written solicitation for each purchase. In such cases, the contracting officer must ensure that the price information is current and that the Postal Service obtains the benefit of the suppliers' trade discounts.

4.2.2.c Publicizing. See 3.4.3.

4.2.2.d Draft Solicitations. In order to further ensure the clarity and completeness of solicitations, purchase teams should consider circulating draft solicitations within the particular supplier community for review and comment. In addition, solicitations for information or planning purposes may be justified; in such cases, the solicitation must contain Provision A-2, Solicitation for Information or Planning Purposes. Purchase teams may also consider issuing presolicitation notices (see 3.5.3.b).

4.2.2.e Solicitation Provisions. Provisions 4-1, Standard Solicitation Provisions, 4-2, Evaluation, and 4-3, Representations and Certifications, form the basic documentation of Postal Service solicitations. Provision 4-1 may be modified, added to, or supplemented when the purchase team determines that doing so will add to the success of the purchase, as may paragraphs (b.) and (c.) of Provision 4-2; when doing so, purchase teams must consult assigned counsel, unless the purchase team intends only to replace any paragraph of either provision with a provision included in Appendix A addressing the same subject matter as the paragraph replaced. The fill-in portions of paragraph (a.) of Provision 4-2 also may be completed without consultation, but counsel should always be consulted when the evaluation scheme included in this paragraph is unusual, particularly complex, or circumstances of the purchase otherwise suggest that consultation is advisable. Provision 4-3 may not be modified, added to, or supplemented.

4.2.2.f Proposal Preparation Time. Consistent with the objectives of the purchase (including whether the solicitation will be competed among prequalified suppliers only), solicitations must allow sufficient time for suppliers to prepare and submit proposals.

4.2.2.g Availability of Solicitations

1. When the competitive purchase method will be used, enough suppliers should be solicited to ensure adequate competition. In addition, contracting officers should make a reasonable effort to provide copies of solicitations to any supplier requesting one. If the requirement is being competed among prequalified suppliers, suppliers not on the prequalification list may be provided a copy of the solicitation, but they must be explicitly told that the Postal Service plans to award the resulting contract to a supplier on the prequalification list. Requests for copies may be denied once a reasonable number of copies have been distributed to the solicited suppliers and others who have requested them. In their role as business leader of the purchasing process, contracting officers should fully explain to suppliers the unavailability of solicitations.

2. Alternatively, the contracting officer may make available through FedBizOpps (www.fedbizops.gov), the Governmentwide Point of Entry (GPE), solicitations publicized through the GPE (see 3.5.3.b), including specifications and other pertinent information determined necessary by the contracting officer. When practicable and cost effective, the contracting officer may make additional solicitation-related information accessible through the GPE.

3. When a solicitation or solicitation package is so voluminous that it is impracticable to reproduce a reasonable number of copies for those requesting them, a limited number of copies should be made available for sale; the cost should include the cost of reproduction and postage.

Return to top of page

4.2.2.h Preproposal Conference

1. Whenever circumstances suggest that it would add to the success of the purchase, such as when a solicitation contains complicated specifications or statements of work, a preproposal conference may be held to brief suppliers. Notice of the preproposal conference should be contained in the solicitation. If time allows, suppliers should be allowed to submit written questions in advance, so that prepared answers may be distributed at the conference.

2. The entire purchase team should attend the conference. The contracting officer or a designated representative must conduct the conference, with the assistance of the purchase team and assigned counsel, as appropriate.

3. A record of the conference must be furnished to all of the suppliers who received the solicitation. Because the role of that record is to ensure that all prospective suppliers fully understand the Postal Service's intent with respect to the purchase, and not necessarily to provide a verbatim reconstruction of the conference, the record may be edited for clarity and brevity and corrected where necessary.

4.2.2.i Amendment of Solicitations

1. Solicitations must be amended when changes such as quantity, specifications, delivery schedule, date of receipt of proposals, or changes to clarify or correct solicitation ambiguities or defects are necessary. When solicitations are amended, suppliers must be provided sufficient time to consider the amendment in the preparation or revision of their proposals. When it is necessary to give notification of a change by telephone or some other means, confirmation by written amendment must follow.

2. When deciding which suppliers are affected by a change, contracting officers should consider the stage of the purchase:

(a) If proposals are not yet due, the amendment must be sent to all suppliers who received the solicitation; if the solicitation had been previously posted, the amendment must be similarly posted.

(b) If the time for receipt of proposals has passed but proposals have not been evaluated, the amendment must be sent to the suppliers who provided proposals.

4.2.2.j Cancellation of Solicitations. As the solicitation process is costly both to the Postal Service and suppliers, solicitations should be canceled for only the most compelling reasons and cancellation should be made as early in the process as cancellation, and must be sent to all of the suppliers who received the solicitation. If the solicitation is canceled before the date for receipt of proposals, any proposals received must be returned unopened to the suppliers.

Return to top of page

4.2.2.k Disclosure and Use of Information

1. General

(a) As business leader of the purchase team, the contracting officer is granted broad discretion regarding the release of information during the purchasing process. In doing so, the contracting officer must take care that the integrity of the process is not compromised. Generally, it makes good business sense for potential suppliers to be as informed as possible during the process.

(b) If, during the purchasing process, the contracting officer determines that dissemination of information is necessary to enhance competition or otherwise improve the effectiveness of the purchase, the information should be released. Depending on the nature of the information, it may be released as an amendment to the solicitation or as general information given out for the purpose of clarification. Again, the contracting officer must consider the stage of the purchase and the potential for compromising the integrity of the purchasing process.

2. After Receipt of Proposals

(a) Information concerning the content of proposals or the number or identity of suppliers may not be disclosed outside the Postal Service, except when necessary for proposal evaluation, or to anyone in the Postal Service not having a legitimate interest.

(b) During the preaward period, only the contracting officer, the contracting officer's supervisor having contracting authority, the purchase team or the evaluation team (see 4.2.5.b) may transmit technical or other information and conduct discussions with suppliers. Information may not be furnished to any supplier if, alone or together with other information, it may afford that supplier an advantage over other suppliers. However, general information that is not prejudicial to other suppliers or to the integrity of the purchasing process may be furnished upon request.

(c) Depending on the nature of the purchase, suppliers may place restrictions on the disclosure and use of data contained in their proposals. When it is anticipated that suppliers will wish to use such restrictions, purchase teams should include Provision A-1, Restriction on Disclosure and Use of Data, in the solicitation. The portions of the proposal that are so restricted (except for information obtainable from another source without restriction) must be used only for evaluation and may not be disclosed outside the Postal Service, except when necessary for proposal evaluation, without the permission of the offeror.3.

3. Release of Solicitation Mailing Lists. Solicitation mailing lists may be released when the contracting officer deems a purchase highly competitive and that competition will not be harmed by the release. The contracting officer should also consider the potential for subcontracting opportunities when considering releasing the list.

Return to top of page

4.2.3 Receipt of Proposals

4.2.3.a General. Proposals must be marked with the date and time of receipt, and kept secure until they are provided to the evaluation team.

4.2.3.b Modification and Withdrawal. Proposals may be modified or withdrawn by written or electronic notice before the specific contract is awarded.

4.2.3.c Late Proposals and Modifications

1. Proposals and modifications of proposals are late if received after the date and time established in the solicitation for receipt of proposals. This does not include the normal revisions of proposals made by a supplier during discussions (see 4.2.5.c).

2. Late proposals and modifications may be considered in accordance with paragraph e of Provision 4-1. It is normally in the interest of the Postal Service to consider a late proposal when doing so would not cause a delay in the evaluation process, or the proposal was late because of mishandling after receipt, or the proposal offers a significant cost, quality, or technical benefit. It is not in the interest of the Postal Service to consider any proposal received so late that its consideration would jeopardize, or give the appearance of jeopardizing, the integrity of the purchasing process.

3. When a late proposal or modification is not considered, the supplier must be given written notification that its proposal or modification was received late and was not considered.

4. Each late proposal must be retained in the solicitation file with a statement as to whether it was considered, and the rationale as to why or why not.

4.2.3.d Failure to Acknowledge Amendments. Generally, it is in the Postal Service's interest that suppliers be as informed as possible. Therefore, if a supplier fails to acknowledge a solicitation amendment, or if a proposal contains a suspected mistake, the contracting officer should question the suppler as to the matter. Suppliers should be granted the opportunity to address amendments or correct mistakes if doing so will enhance competition and not otherwise compromise the integrity of the purchasing process.

Return to top of page

4.2.4 Oral Presentations

4.2.4.a General. Oral presentations are a performance evaluation method (see 4.2.5) used to evaluate a supplier's experience, ability, and proposed method to perform the work called for in the solicitation. As a general rule, their use can speed up the evaluation process and provide a better picture of both the suppliers understanding of the solicitation requirements and its proposed approach to meeting the Postal Service's needs. During oral presentations suppliers may address any or all of a solicitation's performance evaluation factors (see 2.1.9).

4.2.4.b Discussions. Discussions (see 4.2.5.c) are encouraged during oral presentations in order that the suppler gain a better understanding of the Postal Service's expectations and the Postal Service gain a better understanding of the supplier's abilities. The contracting officer, as business leader of the purchase team, must ensure that all suppliers taking part in oral presentation are treated fairly and that any proprietary information presented is protected. Contracting officers must also ensure that any understanding reached as a result of discussions taking place during oral presentations are reflected in the final contract.

4.2.5 Performance Evaluation

4.2.5.a General

1. Purpose. Performance evaluation is a two-step process: (a) evaluation of individual proposals in relation to the solicitation's stated performance evaluation factors; and (b) comparative evaluation of the individual proposals in relation to each other in order to judge each proposal's relative value. Either of these steps may include discussions with suppliers (see 4.2.5.c). Depending on the quality of the proposals received, performance evaluation may be an interactive process through which the Postal Service determines which supplier or suppliers offers the best value, and most merits contract award.

2. Individual Evaluation. The first step consists of analyzing an individual proposal's strengths, weaknesses, and risks, and documenting conclusions reached regarding the proposal. This narrative should be prepared simultaneously with the scoring and, in addition to documenting the proposal's strengths, weaknesses, and risk, must provide the evaluation team's rationale for a particular supplier's score. Proposed prices may also be examined and evaluated in order to gain an understanding of the supplier's approach to the purchase and its grasp of the resources needed for successful performance. The team must arrive at a consensus decision for each proposal and should do so as soon as possible after review and evaluation.

3. Comparative Evaluation. The second step of the process requires the comparison of the relative value offered by each proposal in relation to its competitors. This comparison of proposals is extremely important and must describe the differences between proposals and assess the value of the differences or the impact that the differences will have on the Postal Service.

Return to top of page

4.2.5.b Roles and Responsibilities

1. Purchase Team. The purchase team is responsible for the overall direction of the purchase. This includes establishing the purchase plan and the supplier-selection strategy, and determining which supplier or suppliers offer the best value to the Postal Service (however, see 4.2.5.d.1). In all of these functions, the contracting officer heads the team.

2. Evaluation Team. The evaluation team is responsible for evaluating and comparing the relative worth or value of competitive proposals in accordance with the supplier-selection strategy developed for the purchase. Selected members of the purchase team (including the contracting officer, and others, if warranted) make up the evaluation team. Evaluation teams judge the relative value of a proposal in relation to the solicitation's performance factors, participate in oral presentations, and rank proposals as to the value they offer the Postal Service. Teams may also be established to evaluate a supplier's price or cost proposal. In these cases, panel members need not be members of the purchase team. Prices or estimated costs must be evaluated in accordance with Chapter 5.

3. Contracting Officer. The contracting officer oversees the performance evaluation process. This includes leading discussions with the suppliers (see 4.2.5.c), and making reasoned business decisions to ensure the best interests of the Postal Service, the success of the particular purchase, and the overall fairness and integrity of the purchase.

4.2.5.c Discussions

1. Definition. Discussions include all communications held with suppliers during the purchasing process; the term "discussions" is used in this PM in its common dictionary sense, and not as defined or circumscribed in previous Postal Service purchasing regulations or similar regulations of other Federal agencies.

2. Purpose. Discussions may be held in order to (a) allow for the clarification of matters contained in a proposal that raise questions regarding acceptability or evaluation score; (b) address suspected mistakes or questionable assumptions; and (c) obtain the best value to the Postal Service and establish final contract terms and conditions. Discussions need not be held with individual suppliers when, after evaluation and comparison of their proposals, it becomes apparent that their proposals do not offer the best value to the Postal Service and could not be improved to do so without extensive and substantial revision. The contracting officer is responsible for the conduct of discussions. During the conduct of discussions, contracting officers must ensure that no leveling or technical transfusion occurs.

3. Use

(a) During the evaluation process, including during oral presentations, discussions may be held with any supplier in order to clear up misunderstandings or uncertainties or to gain a better understanding of the supplier's responses and intent regarding the solicitation's provisions including its performance factors, and any aspect of a supplier's proposal including price, in order to obtain a more informed comparison of the relative value of individual proposals. Information provided to the Postal Service during discussions must be protected.

(b) After proposal comparisons have been made, further discussions may be held to address any outstanding matters. These discussions should be made with a sufficient number of suppliers for the purchase team to be confident that it can reasonably determine which supplier or suppliers offers the best value to the Postal Service. However, the fact that discussions are held with one or more offerors does not require that discussions be held with other offerors if there is no business necessity for additional discussions. Offerors whose offers are not the subject of discussions need not be afforded a specific opportunity to revise their offers.

(c) Suppliers whose offers are the subject of discussion at any stage must be given sufficient time to revise their proposals in light of those discussions. The time provided must be reasonable in view of the complexity and extent of the issues discussed, but the time provided one supplier need not be the same as that provided another.

(d) The final stage of discussions is reaching agreement on the contract's terms and conditions with the apparently successful supplier. The goal of this stage is to reach the best business arrangement for the Postal Service, and during this stage any remaining issues should be addressed and revised. However, if the extent of these issues may reasonably be viewed as changing the rationale for determining the best value to the Postal Service, the contracting officer must consider reopening discussions with other suppliers. In no event may changes be made to the Postal Service's requirements of the supplier's proposal which, if made before supplier selection, would have affected the basis for the selection.

Return to top of page

4.2.5.d Best Value Determinations

1. Responsibility. After evaluation, comparative analysis and ranking of the proposals (including price proposals) and, if necessary, discussions with suppliers, it must be determined which supplier or suppliers offer the best value to the Postal Service. This determination should be reached through the consensus of the purchase team; if consensus cannot be reached, the contracting officer must make the determination based upon the business and competitive needs of the Postal Service, as expressed in the solicitation.

2. Process. At the heart of this decision are (a) the trade-off judgment between price and the value offered in a supplier's proposal, (b) the relative value offered by a supplier or suppliers in relation to the competition, and (c) whether a lower cost is worth the lesser technical value (and potentially higher risk), or whether a higher price is worth the increased technical/managerial capabilities (and potentially lower risk). These judgments must be consistent with the relative significance of the identified performance evaluation factors and the relationship of those factors to cost/price factors as established in the solicitation (see 2.1.10).

3. Documentation. The purchase team must clearly understand, explain, and document the rationale for the best value determination, including the extent and result of any discussions with the supplier awarded the contract and any other offerors.

4.2.6 Contract Award

4.2.6.a Contract award is made by execution of a contract by both parties, or by written acceptance of or performance against a purchase order.

4.2.6.b If a proposed award requires higher-level review and approval or a delegation of contracting authority, award may not be made until the approval or delegation has been obtained (see 1.4).

4.2.6.c When more than one award results from any single solicitation, separate award documents must be executed. When an award is made to a supplier for fewer than all items that may be awarded to that supplier, and additional items are being withheld for subsequent award, the first award to that supplier must state that the Postal Service may make subsequent awards on additional items within the proposal acceptance period, if applicable. When two or more awards are made to a single supplier under a solicitation, the original copy of the proposal must be attached to the retained office copy of the first award, and duplicate copies attached to succeeding awards.

Return to top of page

4.2.7 Contract Clauses

4.2.7.a Clauses 4-1, General Terms and Conditions, contains the basic terms and conditions for Postal Service contracts. Depending on the particular purchase, these terms and conditions may be modified or added to in order to protect the interests of all parties and ensure the success of the purchase. These general terms and conditions are discussed in Appendix B, Contract Clauses, as are other clauses which, depending on the nature of the purchase, the type of contract, and other policies outlined elsewhere in this PM, may be required in the contract. When one of the clauses contained in Appendix B is used to replace a paragraph addressing the same subject matter in Clause 4-1, consultation with assigned counsel is not required.

4.2.7.b Clause 4-2, Contract Terms and Conditions Required to Implement Policies, Statutes, or Executive Orders, incorporates by reference those clauses required to implement selected policies, and laws and Executive Orders applicable to certain Postal Service contracts, such as (1) purchases of supplies subject to the Postal Service's domestic preference policy, (2) services covered under the Service Contract Act, or (3) design and construction contracts covered under the Davis-Bacon Act. Depending on the particular purchase, Clause 4-2 is added to the solicitation and contract, and contracting officers must specify by checking-off which of the additional clauses apply. When used, neither Clause 4-2 nor the additional clauses added by reference may be modified unless a deviation has been reviewed and approved by an individual at a higher level than the contracting officer who holds deviation approval authority (see 1.3.2.b.2). In addition, any changes to paragraph b. of Clause 4-2 must be reviewed by assigned counsel and the Office of Inspector General before a related deviation request is submitted.

4.2.7.c Form 8203, Order/Solicitation/Offer/Award, or an equivalent may be used as the cover sheet for Postal Service contracts. The form contains buyer, supplier, and line-item information.

4.2.7.d Modifying Clauses. Subject to the restrictions in 1.3.1.b, 4.2.7.b, and Appendix B, clauses cited in this PM may be modified, added to or replaced by purchase teams when doing so is in the competitive and business interests of the Postal Service. Except as noted above as to Clause 4-1, purchase teams must consult assigned counsel before any clause is modified, added to, or replaced, and particular care must be taken when the terms of the given clause will have an impact on business objectives subject to other Postal Service policies (such as Clauses 1-2, Advance Payments, and 1-3, Progress Payments).

Return to top of page

4.2.8 Notification

4.2.8.a Within 3 days after award, the contracting officer must send all suppliers that submitted proposals a written notice including:

1. The number of proposals received;

2. The name and address of each supplier receiving an award;

3. The items, quantities, and unit prices of each award, or the total of estimated cost and fee for cost-reimbursement contracts;

4. If award was made without discussions, a statement to that effect; and

5. A statement that briefly describes the business reasons for the award. The statement must provide the pertinent facts that led the purchase team to determine that a particular proposal offered the best value to the Postal Service. For example:

"The offeror had the highest-rated performance evaluation factors and the second-lowest price. The evaluation scheme provided that the performance evaluation factors were more important than price in the award decision." (Statements such as "award was made to the offeror proposing the best value in accordance with the solicitation," which do not describe the solicitation's evaluation scheme or how the successful offeror most satisfactorily complied with that scheme, do not meet this requirement.)

4.2.8.b If numerous multiple awards are made, the notice may state where award details may be reviewed.

4.2.9 Debriefing

4.2.9.a Timing. An offeror may be debriefed upon written request received by the contracting officer within 3 days following the offeror's receipt of notice of award. When practicable, untimely debriefing requests received beyond that time may be honored. To the maximum extent practicable, any debriefing should occur within 5 days after receipt of the written request.

4.2.9.b Method. Debriefing may be done in person, in writing, by electronic means, or any other method mutually acceptable to the contracting officer and the supplier.

4.2.9.c Purpose. Debriefings are intended to explain to a supplier how its proposal was evaluated and to help it prepare for future purchase opportunities. Contracting officers should fully explain the rationale for contract award, and, if necessary, use the debriefing as a means of educating suppliers in the way the Postal Service conducts its purchases. Suppliers may be told their relative strengths and weaknesses, and, if proposals were ranked, their ranking. Suppliers may also be told their rating and that of the successful offeror; however, no point-by-point comparisons with other proposals or further breakdown of other evaluated scores may be made.

4.2.9.d Content

1. Information must not be disclosed to any supplier as to another supplier's:

(a) Trade secrets;

(b) Restricted data or privileged or confidential manufacturing processes or techniques; or

(c) Business and financial information that is privileged or confidential, including cost breakdowns, profit, indirect cost rates, and similar information.

2. The contracting officer or a designated representative must conduct the debriefing, with the assistance and participation of the purchase team and assigned counsel, as appropriate.

3. The contracting officer must include a summary of the debriefing in the solicitation file.

Go to previous section of document Link to chapter contents   Go to next section of document