In a recent bid protest decision the Massachusetts Attorney General allowed a protest contesting a bidder’s right to submit Minority Business Enterprise (“MBE”) or Women’s Business Enterprise (“WBE”) qualifications after the bid opening. The opinion deemed MBE and WBE goals to be statutory and therefore not waivable by the awarding authority. The decision also found that allowing such post-bid submissions would violate the equal-footing principles upon which bidding laws rely.
The Fall River project required M/WBE compliance forms to be included with bids. The low bidder listed itself as an MBE in its bid. However, it soon learned that a change in the law made it no longer qualified to be a certified MBE. It then provided the city with the name of a qualifying subcontractor, albeit post bid opening. The city was willing to accept this post-bid supplement, however, another bidder filed a protest.
Generally speaking, cities may use their discretion in waiving their own public bidding requirements in certain circumstances. However, they are not authorized to waive statutory requirements. M.G.L. c. 7C, § 6(a)(6), enacted in 2013, provides that “state assisted construction contracts shall include language… setting forth the participation goals of minority and women workers to be employed on each such contracts.” Given the mandate of the “shall” language, the AG hearing officer found the M/WBE participation requirements to be statutory and therefore the city could not waive them.
The decision went further in finding that accepting the supplement post-bid would violate equal footing principles. An entity that already has the low bid will tend to have more leverage in negotiating prices with subcontractors and suppliers than competitors had pre-bid. Such advantages are not allowed.
Bidders should use caution going forward in verifying the current status of the M/WBE components of their bids and including thoroughly completed participation compliance forms in bid submissions.