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The Benefits of a Well Written Request for Proposal

By Anne Lee, Project Manager and Principal Investigator at Commonwealth Heritage Group, Inc.

In the Cultural Resources Management world (like much of the consulting world in general), most of us have received a poorly thought out Request for Proposal (RFP) containing few of the details professionals need to respond with a competitive proposal. Or you may have written such an RFP yourself because, let’s face it, as the RFP creator you probably don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the type of information a particular service area provider needs in order to craft their response. Well, no fear. This blog post is intended to provide you with some of the information you may need to develop a well thought out RFP and technical Scope of Work (SOW) the next time your project requires cultural resources investigations.

Typical Information Often Overlooked in a Request for Proposal or a Request for Quote

The most common items I find missing in RFPs are the basic instructions. Some things, like when is the proposal due, seem like no brainers but I think they are often overlooked simply because the RFP creator is short on time or is more focused on developing a complete SOW than remembering to include routine information. Below is a list of questions to help ensure that both you and your bidders know what is expected of the proposal package and non-technical aspects of the contract award.

  • What should be included in the proposal package?
    • Do you need a technical proposal? Resumes? Qualifications? Safety documentation?
    • How does the cost section of the proposal need to be formatted? For example, do you need a Lump Sum estimate? Costs by broad task categories? Itemized costs with tasks?
  • How will compensation be determined (e.g., Fixed Fee, Time & Materials, Time & Materials Not to Exceed)?
  • Are there any unique contracting or cost proposal conditions that the bidder should be aware of, such as pre-qualifications or use of agency-approved rate schedules?
  • Is there any special training or work conditions that should be taken into account when developing the proposal?
    • Examples of special training or conditions include requirements such as drug and alcohol testing, specialized or Owner-specified safety training for field staff, specific work hours or specific days of the week when work can or cannot occur, etc.
  • Does the bidder need to provide a Health and Safety Plan for the project or will that be developed and provided by the project proponent?
  • When do you need the proposal and who does it get submitted to?
  • Do you need a hardcopy of the proposal or will a PDF emailed to the appropriate person be acceptable?

Elements of a Well-Developed Scope of Work

Once the bidder knows the basic requirements of what should be submitted with the proposal package and when the proposal is due, they can turn to the meat and potatoes of the proposal: what is the bidder being asked to do, by whom, within what time frame, and why is the work necessary? The following are questions I typically ask myself as I develop a response to the SOW portion of a RFP and which I hope will help you develop your next SOW for cultural resources services:

  • Why is the cultural resources investigation being requested?
  • Is the proposed cultural resources investigation being requested strictly for due diligence purposes or is the investigation required by a federal or state law? If the investigation is required by law, which law and who is the lead regulatory agency?
  • Has the federal or state agency, or the State Historic Preservation Office, already been consulted, particularly regarding required level of effort and the area of potential effects (APE)?
    • If so, include copies of the correspondence to the bidders – it may help them understand what they are being asked to do and ensure that the proposed SOW will be acceptable to the lead agency and any review agencies.
    • If not, is the bidder being asked to develop an APE or will this be supplied by the lead federal agency or other entity?
  • Where is the project, what are the boundaries of the parcels making up the project area, and where will the actual ground-disturbing activities occur?
    • Note that the vertical height of the proposed project is particularly important for the above-ground architectural history investigation because it is often related to potential visual, auditory, vibratory, or other impacts on historic built resources.
  • What type of plans or mapping information will be provided by your company or agency? Will the information be hard copy? Digital? If digital, what file types are you providing?
  • For archaeological investigations, do you or your land agents have any additional information about ground cover conditions?
    • For example, how much of the area is wooded versus cultivated versus manicured lawn? If there are agricultural fields in the project area, are the fields no-till? If so, is the farmer willing to disc no-till fields?
  • Is any of the land inside the project boundaries public land (federal, state, local)? If so, special permits may be needed to conduct an archaeological survey and securing those permits should be figured into the overall project schedule.
  • For archaeological investigations, what will be done with any recovered materials? Will they need to be curated? Returned to landowners?
  • Does the SOW include completion of inventory forms for newly identified resources? What about previously identified resources that are resurveyed?
  • If consultation with consulting parties and stakeholders is required, who will handle this task? The bidder or some other entity?
  • Will the bidder be expected to coordinate the project with the State Historic Preservation Office, or will the project proponent or lead government agency handle this aspect of the project?
  • What is the project schedule and at what point does concurrence from the lead agency and any other agency reviewers need to be received?

Why should you care if your RFP is complete?

Seriously. Why should you care if the RFP you send out to cultural resource service providers is detailed and addresses all the common questions? One reason is because the type of bids you receive can impact your company’s profit margin on the project, the project schedule, and possibly the reputation your company gets with your clients. Here are a few ways your company can benefit from a well-thought out and clearly written RFP:

  • The more complete your RFP, the fewer questions from bidders you have to answer. The fewer questions you have to respond to equates to more time that can be devoted to other tasks and the fewer headaches you will have throughout the solicitation process.
  • The more complete your RFP, the more realistic and accurate the quote you receive.
  • The more complete your RFP, the less chance your winning bidder comes back to you with change order and cost modification requests. The bidder doesn’t want to be known as the company that provides a low bid just to get the job so they can make their money from change orders and neither do you.
  • The more complete your RFP, the greater the chance you receive an honest assessment of whether the work can be done for a specific amount of money within a given time frame.
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