Purchasing

201 Carter Drive, Suite 200
West Chester, PA 19383
Get More Information

Frequently Asked Questions

Please note that nothing contained within this site may be construed as "legal advice" from the Office of Legal Counsel. Some of the material found here has been condensed from statutes, regulations, court decisions, policies of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and other sources. Users should always consult with University Contracting Officers first and then appropriate licensed counsel if specific legal or factual issues are involved. The materials here are presented for informational purposes only. (source:http://www.passhe.edu/inside/legal/Pages/default.aspx)

CONTRACTS - IN GENERAL

How do I find out the status of a contract that was submitted to Harrisburg?

Which contracts must be submitted for legal approval?

Are all contracts reviewed by the Office of Attorney General and the Office of General Counsel?

May I direct a contractor to perform services prior to approval?

When must I bid?

If bidding instructions are silent and DO NOT provide for any individuals other than officers to sign on behalf of the corporation, may a university accept other signatures if a certified board resolution is provided? Must it reject the bid for noncompliance?

CONTRACTS - COMMONWEALTH PROCUREMENT CODE (ACT 57)

When did the Code take effect?

Does the Code apply to all expenditures of contractual funds by a University?

Does the Code define how long procurement records must be kept?

Is the public entitled to see procurement information?

May a comptroller certify to fiscal responsibility AND bind the university if they have contracting authority to do so?

I need to make an emergency repair and cannot wait. Does the Code allow me to do this and if so, how?

There is only one known contractor I know that can provide the services I need. The contract is over $18,500. Do I really need to competitively bid this?

Who should be signing sole source and emergency certifications?

What is the time frame for an actual or prospective bidder to file a protest and how are such protests filed?

In what ways have procedures changed in regards to filing an action with the Board of Claims?

Will new regulations be promulgated and by who?

Does the Code regulate the behavior of Commonwealth employees?

What is bid-rigging and how does it play a part in procurement?

In the past, the university has been very impressed in regards to a contractor. Can I write my request in such a way that he would be a shoe-in? He is a known quantity and the university knows it will get value for its money.

Are all the procurement laws found in the Code?

Are there other new things in the Code not addressed here?

 

CONTRACTS - IN GENERAL

How do I find out the status of a contract that was submitted to Harrisburg?


Generally, contracts that have not been returned to the university within 30 days are still with the Office of General Counsel or the Office of Attorney General. However, if you must find out the status of a particular contract, please contact the Purchasing Office (for goods or non-construction contracts) or the Contract Services Office (for construction and real property type contracts). Someone from those offices will contact the appropriate authorities to seek a status report and provide you with the findings.

Back to top>

Which contracts must be submitted for legal approval?

Legal review and approval is required for any contract for goods and/or services (including "agreements" and "memoranda of understanding") between a University and another party, except those contracts in amounts under $5,000 made exempt from review by Section 5.2d(2) of Manual M215.1. The Commonwealth Attorneys Act authorizes the Office of Attorney General and the Governor's Office of General Counsel to review and approve our contracts, deeds and leases. Exceptions must be based on written statements of authorized personnel.
Back to top>

Are all contracts reviewed by the Office of Attorney General and the Office of General Counsel?

The Office of Attorney General reviews all original Service Purchase contracts in excess of $20,000, and all bluebacks and amendments regardless of the dollar amount. Renewal contracts, provided there are no amendments other than those established by the original contract (i.e., change of price based on a predetermined formula or a change of term), only require the signature of university legal counsel.

The Office of General Counsel reviews contracts where the original term is in excess of $500,000.

Both offices retain the right at any time to review any contract should they request to do so.

Our university desires to enter into an agreement in which no dollar amounts are involved. Must this agreement be submitted for legal approval?

With limited exceptions, university legal counsel is required by the Commonwealth Attorneys Act to review and approve contracts and agreements entered into by the State System universities. Legal approval is not required for $0 contracts if such contracts are also on the list of pre-approved services in Section 5.2d(2) of Manual M215.1 and the contract is on an unmodified SPC form – one in which none of the standard clauses are changed, the services are briefly and simply described, and there are no additional terms or conditions.

Back to top>

May I direct a contractor to perform services prior to approval?

No, unless it falls within the statutory definition of emergency contracting as noted in the Commonwealth Procurement Code. State System employees may not approve the purchase of goods or services without a properly authorized contract. Moreover, no such employee is authorized to commit the agency to any contractual relationship covered by the appropriate statutes, regulations, and policies without the approval of legal counsel. Contractors proceed at their own risk of nonpayment if they initiate provision of goods or services prior to receipt of a contract requiring, where applicable, the approval of university legal counsel, the Office of the Chancellor, the Office of General Counsel, and/or the Office of Attorney General. Invitations to bid, requests for proposals, and other contact with vendors should make this clear, and explicitly provide that the university reserves the right to reject any and all bid, RFP's, etc. Only Contracting Officers and Fiscal Officers with delegated signatory authority from the University President may process contracts on behalf of the University.
Back to top>

When must I bid?

With some exceptions, all contracts in excess of $18,500 must be competitively bid. (Competitive bidding is highly recommended for those contracts under $18,500.) Exceptions include, but are not limited to (1) contracts funded by federal funds or private donations regardless of the amount; (2) purchases from the Department of General Services’ master contracts by use of a purchase order; and (3) contracts where the contractor is the sole source of the requested service. The Office of Attorney General, however, sometimes requires that we demonstrate the accuracy of a sole source determination by showing that one, or preferably two, of what are the closest to what might be other apparently qualified bidders were contacted and failed to bid. Listing three contacts is the preferred procedure. See also the University’s Small (Under $ 18,500) Procurement Policy.

Back to top>


If bidding instructions are silent and DO NOT provide for any individuals other than officers to sign on behalf of the corporation, may a university accept other signatures if a certified board resolution is provided? Must it reject the bid for noncompliance?

The bid need not be rejected for noncompliance if a certified board resolution is attached to the submission evidencing the authority of the signing individuals. For contracts, we permit the contractor to provide alternate signatures so long as they have proper documentation to support authority. Therefore, it should be reasonable to allow it in this instance also.

Statutory authority supports this position. The law provides that a document is properly executed by a corporation when "signed by one or more officers or agents having actual or apparent authority to sign it, OR by the President or Vice-President and Secretary or Treasurer. . . ." 15 Pa.C.S.A. §1506(a).

Back to top>

CONTRACTS - COMMONWEALTH PROCUREMENT CODE (ACT 57) 

When did the Code take effect?

November 11, 1998.

Back to top>

Does the Code apply to all expenditures of contractual funds by a University?

Almost. There are three exceptions: a) if the funds are expended in compliance with federal requirements, b) if it involves a contract between Commonwealth agencies or other governments (except as provided in Chapter 19 of the Code), and c) if the expenditure is in compliance with funding by a gift, grant, bequest or cooperative agreement.

Back to top>

Does the Code define how long procurement records must be kept?

Yes. All procurement records shall be maintained for a minimum of three years. This requirement includes, but is not limited to, the following types of records a) determinations and other documents related to competitive sealed bidding, b) determination and other documents related to competitive sealed proposals, c) determination and other documents related to sole source procurement, d) determination and other documents related to emergency procurement, and e) determination and other documents related to competitive selection procedures for certain services.

Back to top>

Is the public entitled to see procurement information?

The Code provides public access to any documents created by or provided to any Commonwealth agency for any procurement to the extent currently provided for in the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law.

Back to top>

May a comptroller certify to fiscal responsibility AND bind the university if they have contracting authority to do so?

No. For the sake of the integrity of the process, the "comptroller" or person certifying the availability of funds and the fiscal appropriateness of the contract should be an individual separate and apart from the university official (Contracting Officer with Presidential Delegated Signatory Authority) who signs on behalf of the university. This is designed as a check and balance system.

Back to top>

I need to make an emergency repair and cannot wait. Does the Code allow me to do this and if so, how?

An emergency procurement is the need to purchase goods or services when circumstances do not permit the delays intrinsically involved in the mandatory competitive bidding practices. The properly authorized contracting officer or his/her designee may make an emergency procurement when there exists a threat to public health, welfare or safety or circumstances outside the control of the university. Under no circumstances will bad planning be considered an "emergency" justifying this form of procurement.

Emergency contracts will not require the pre-approval of university legal counsel. However, great care must be taken to insure that any such contract would pass legal review based on the statutory criteria and any questions and concerns should be directed to counsel prior to the contractor commencing work. Rejection of the contract for failure to comply with emergency procurement criteria draws the university and contractor into an unavoidable, and preferably avoidable, contractual dispute.

All emergency contracts must be certified by the contracting officer or his designee by the pre-approved form prepared by the office of Chief Counsel when submitted for legal review. Unfortunately, any contracts failing to contain the mandatory certification will be returned to the university.
Back to top>


There is only one known contractor I know that can provide the services I need. The contract is over $18,500. Do I really need to competitively bid this?

It depends. The procurement of a good, service, or construction item on a "sole source" basis involves the award of a contract without competition, where there is only one vendor available to provide such good, service, or item. Section 515 of the Code sets forth the requirements for sole source procurement.

Back to top>

Who should be signing sole source and emergency certifications?

The person signing either of these certifications on behalf of the university should have the contract authority to bind the university contract at the monetary level of the contract. For example, if the contract for which a certification is being submitted is anticipated to be $100,000, then the individual signing the certification must have contracting authority up to and including $100,000.

Back to top>

What is the time frame for an actual or prospective bidder to file a protest and how are such protests filed?

Actual or prospective bidders, offerors or contractors who believes that they are aggrieved may protest to the contracting officer in writing within seven days after the claimant knows or should have known of the facts giving rise to the protest. If the protestor did not submit a bid, his protest must be received by the contracting officer prior to the opening of bids, as designated in the request/invitation. Failure to do so is an untimely submission that can be disregarded.

University presidents have the authority to settle or resolve a protest within 60 days of its filing. Chief Counsel must approve any action resulting in a settlement. If a settlement is not reached within sixty days, the president should advise the protestor in writing that the matter is being referred to the Office of the Chancellor. In the case of no mutual agreement/settlement, the Chancellor will, within 120 days from the filing of an original protest, issue a decision in writing. The decision, which is to be sent by registered mail to the protestor and any other interested party, must state the rationale for its final decision and advise all affected parties of their rights to file a judicial action with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania within 14 days of receipt of the decision. No action may be taken to the Commonwealth Court unless all administrative procedures have been exhausted.

During the pending protest and until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted, the university may not proceed with the solicitation or with the award of the contract, unless it is determined by the contracting officer or designee that the protest is clearly without merit or that the award of the contract without delay is necessary to protect the substantial interests of the Commonwealth. University Legal Counsel should be consulted prior to any determination and subsequent action.

Back to top>

In what ways have procedures changed in regards to filing an action with the Board of Claims?

If a controversy arises between a contractor and a university as a result of a contractual relationship (i.e., breach of contract, mistake, misrepresentation or other cause for contract modification or recession), a claim must first be filed in writing with the contracting officer within six months after it accrues. The contracting officer has the authority to settle or resolve this action without the necessity of bringing the matter before the Board of Claims for formal adjudication. However, all settlement must be reviewed and approved by Chief Counsel.

If the controversy is not settled within 120 days, the contracting officer or designee must issue an opinion in writing. That decision must state the reasons for the decision made as to the dispute and inform the contractor of its right to administrative and judicial review by the Board of Claims. The decision is to be served by registered mail.

The decision of the purchasing head shall be final, unless the contractor files a claim with the Board of Claims within 30 days of the receipt of the decision. If the university does not issue a timely decision, the contractor may proceed to court as if an adverse decision was rendered.

Back to top>

Will new regulations be promulgated and by who?

Department of General Services retains authority to promulgate regulations governing the procurement, management, control, and disposal of any and all supplies, services and construction to be procured by Commonwealth agencies, including the State System. This could include the authority of DGS to "audit" and "monitor" the implementation of its regulations and the requirements of the Code. The State System will have to monitor and participate in the regulatory review process in order to have input into those regulations authorized under the Code.
Back to top>


Does the Code regulate the behavior of Commonwealth employees?

In a manner. The Code incorporates the provision of the Public Official Ethics Act, and the State Adverse Interest Act. The Code also states that it is the duty of public employees to act impartially in regards to the procurement process. It is also unlawful for any employee to require that a bond be furnished by a particular surety company, agent, or broker. Anyone found in violation of this section could be found guilty of having committed a misdemeanor of the first degree. Lastly, Chapter 45 of the Code incorporates the provisions of the Anti-bid Rigging Act. Conviction under this chapter could result in both criminal and civil sanctions.
Back to top>

What is bid-rigging and how does it play a part in procurement?

Bid-rigging is when two or more individuals conspire together to determine in advance the winning bidder of a contract involving a government agency. It includes, but is not limited to, the following scenarios:

1) Agreeing to sell items or services at the same price.

2) Agreeing to submit identical bids.

3) Agreeing to rotate bids.

4) Agreeing to share profits with a contractor who does not submit the low bid.

5) Submitting prearranged bids, agreed-upon higher or lower bids or other complementary bids.

6) Agreeing to set up territories to restrict competition.

7) Agreeing not to submit bids.

It is illegal for any person individually, or with another person, to engage in bid-rigging involving a contract for the purchase of goods, equipment, services or materials or for construction or repair and/or a subcontract for the purchase of equipment, goods, services or material or for construction or repair with a prime contractor or proposed prime contractor for a government agency.

Any university which discovers that it is the victim of bid-rigging as a result of any contractor, third party, and/or Commonwealth employee has the authority to sue in a civil action all participants for the recovery for the full amount of damages, which are then tripled. In addition, damages, which are awarded in a successful action, also include the cost of the suits plus reasonable attorney fees. The statute of limitations for such an action is four years from the date the action arose and cannot extend past ten years from the date the contract was signed by the parties. As far as criminal penalties are concerned, any entity found to have engaged in anti-bid rigging activities can be sentenced to pay a fine of up to one million dollars ($1,000,000). An individual can be fined up to fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) and/or serve a prison term of three years.

Back to top>

In the past, the university has been very impressed in regards to a contractor. Can I write my request in such a way that he would be a shoe-in? He is a known quantity and the university knows it will get value for its money.

No. A "not-so-distant cousin" to anti-bid rigging is specification rigging. This occurs when the writing of a specification is so restrictive that it virtually guarantees the awarding of the contract to a pre-selected individual. In that this is a pre-conceived arrangement, which requires advance knowledge of a contractor's capability and the intent to exclude others, this is technically a violation of the anti-bid rigging laws. Effort should be made to insure that this does not occur either intentionally or unintentionally.

Back to top>

Are all the procurement laws found in the Code?

No. There are four laws that were not incorporated into the Code but still require compliance. Although not in the Code, universities must still adhere to the Steel Products Procurement Act, the Prevailing Wage Act, the Separations Act, and the law relating to interest on delinquent payments to non-construction contracts.

Back to top>

Are there other new things in the Code not addressed here?

Absolutely, and all personnel who contract on behalf of the universities should reference the new edition of the Contract Manual which was initially distributed in February of 1999 and is regularly updated via the office of legal counsel's web page. Monthly checks of the web page are strongly encouraged to ensure receipt of modification and alterations.

Back to top>