Vendor Selection Documentation is Important For a Successful E-rate Procurement
In the coming weeks, schools and libraries across the country will start posting Forms 470 in greater numbers. Once all of the bids are in, applicants must fully document the vendor selection process in order to demonstrate compliance with E-rate regulations regarding the selection of Service Providers. In this article, we will look at a few ways that schools and libraries can help ensure that they are properly documenting this phase of the E-rate process.
Establish Criteria Ahead of Time
Before service provider bids are evaluated, the applicant must decide the criteria to be used during the evaluation. We recommend setting up a bid evaluation matrix before the bids are reviewed to ensure that no service provider receives an unfair advantage during the selection process. The key factor of the evaluation process is the price of E-rate eligible goods and services. This factor must have more weight than any other single factor in the evaluation process (though it doesn't necessarily have to have the majority of total weight). In cases where there are multiple phases to the selection of vendors, the SLD says that price must be the highest-weighted factor in each stage of the process.
Using a tool to help evaluate service providers will guard against miscalculations in the scoring of bids. Using a tool like our Service Provider Evaluation Worksheet can also help make documenting the process easier.
List the Players
The group of people who are evaluating the bids should be documented, along with their title/role within the applicant organization. If anyone from outside of the organization is used to help evaluate bids--such as a technology consultant--be sure that they have no incentive to select one service provider over another or in any way would be biased in their evaluation of bids.
It is possible for an applicant to disqualify bids that do not meet a set of minimum requirements specified in the RFP or Form 470. From the SLD's perspective, these requirements must be objective--either "meets" or "does not meet" (or "binary," using the SLD's terminology), and not a subjective score. The process of disqualifying a bidder should be done early in the evaluation process and should be clearly documented for document retention/audit purposes.
The SLD has provided the following as some examples of "common bid requirements" that could result in a disqualification:
Service provider is required to register with the state procurement office
Service provider is required to obtain a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) from USAC
Service provider is required to have an FCC Registration Number
Service provider is required to be bonded and insured
(source: USAC NewsBrief 5/14/2009)
Document Retention Tips Related to the Vendor Selection Process
Here are some items that applicants should keep on file, related to a vendor selection process:
A copy of the RFP, if one is issued in conjunction with the procurement.
A copy of each bid received--winning, losing, and disqualified.
Bid evaluation criteria.
Copies of the bid evaluation sheets.
A list of people who evaluated bids, along with their title/role/relationship to the applicant organization.
Copies of notices to winners
Memos/board minutes/notes to file related to vendor selection/award
A copy of the signed/dated contracts
Correspondence with service providers during the bidding/evaluation/award phase of the process