Government solicits bids for projects through a “Request for Proposal” (RFP). RFPs were intended to save government agencies money on big projects by getting private contractors to submit estimates up-front. But RFPs have become a tool for the largest private contractors to use against smaller ones and a nearly secretive free-for-all for those who can afford to put them together that adds overhead.
Indy should consider two options in the process of working with private contractors.
Re-imagine the RFP process
The first step is changing how the City handles RFPs and private contractors respond. RFPs almost immediately shut-out small businesses, small teams, and entrepreneurs. The reason is simple: they take too much time to put together. A single RFP can take days of work with no guarantee of work on the other side. For this reason, most small businesses can’t afford to take the time to put together a suitable RFP.
This also assumes a small business even knows a project is up for bid. Bids from municipal corporations and other city agencies and departments are usually posted online. But they’re not centralized, they are rarely promoted, and frankly, this gives the impression people inside government only want the same usual applicants to a project proposal.
Indianapolis needs a centralized spot, open promotion of projects sortable by category and scope, and an online mechanism to submit information. Because RFPs frequently require financial information, project estimates, and business history, they only go to established companies with enough money and staff to be able to afford the time it takes to submit RFPs. They also have to be mailed sometimes, which is also cumbersome.
Call for innovators
It’s one thing for the City to solicit bids to build a bridge or reconstruct an intersection. It’s another if a City agency needs a new website or a carpet installed. In these instances, RFPs are again used and the usual medley of responses from some of the region’s most expensive and largest companies respond. Rarely does a project as modest as new carpet installation or landscaping get awarded to the team of two or three, even if they did apply.
Indianapolis should host regular calls for innovators. An open forum for people to hear presentations from entrepreneurs with new ideas. If an agency needs a new roof or carpet installed, the RFPs will roll in for new carpet. But what if carpeting isn’t ideal? What if a better solution exists? What if a small team has figured out a new way to enable communication, construction, or clever use of new materials?
Those proposals need heard and they need an open venue to do so.