Many applicants use a multi-step, or multi-tier, evaluation process when reviewing vendor proposals. This type of review process involves the elimination of proposals in stages. Weaker bids are eliminated first, while stronger bids move on to later stages. For example, an applicant may use the first step of the evaluation process to assess the technical specifications of bid responses and eliminate those proposals that do not meet technological specifications.
In some cases, state competitive bidding laws require that applicants use this type of proposal review and evaluation process. For the past few years, applicants have been struggling to reconcile their mandated multi-tier evaluation process with SLD guidance. On August 8, 2011, the FCC released an Order validating the multi-tier evaluation process and providing further guidance for applicants and USAC moving forward.
The Order has broad implications for applicants that use a multi-tier evaluation process:
- The FCC has confirmed that an applicant can disqualify or require a certain point total in a technical evaluation before price is given consideration.
- Price must still be the primary factor in selecting the winning bid.
- Applicants that engage in multi-tier evaluations must provide notice in the RFP or Form 470 of the evaluation process. The notice should include the specific criteria that will be used in the evaluation process and the circumstances under which a bidder may be eliminated.
The Order stems from requests for review from two school districts, Baltimore City School District and Cobb County School District. Both Districts had millions of dollars in funding requests denied or involved in a COMAD process due to the SLD determining that price had not been the primary factor in each tier of the evaluation process. The FCC found that BCSD and CCSD did not violate the Commission’s competitive bidding requirements when selecting vendors using a tiered selection process and granted both requests.