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Contentious contract case reconsidered

Multi-million dollar office furniture contract at the center of dispute

Posted: July 28, 2013 - 12:08am

A contract for office furniture is the focus of Jerry Bowers’ latest grievance against the State of Alaska. Bowers is the owner of Bowers Office Supply in Fairbanks. Court records show he’s protested the state’s procurement process numerous times in the last 20 years; a 1996 case against the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District even made it to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Currently, Bowers is arguing — without assistance from a lawyer — that a contract with Juneau-based Capital Office Supply was awarded in violation of state procurement laws. The state denies Bowers’ claims.

The contract is part of a massive overhaul of the state’s office layouts and designs. Universal Space Standards is a plan being promoted by the state as a way to save $125 million over the next 10 to 20 years by standardizing furniture and private office and cubicle sizes.

The contract was put out as a Request for Services (RFS), a process the state has never used before. Typically, a Request for Proposals (RFP) is issued. The contract was offered through the Western States Contracting Alliance — a cooperative purchasing organization of 15 states. In its June 6 decision, the court found that General Services was wrong in making numerous significant changes to the existing WSCA contract instead of creating a new contract.

Bowers said he could not comment for this story because of a verbal commitment he’d made to the state to not be quoted in the press during appeals; however, much of Bowers’ opinion on the state’s procurement process is expressed in his Proposal for Action, which was filed with the Office of Administrative Hearings, the court in this case.

Bowers is requesting that Department of Administration Commissioner Becky Hultberg accept the June 6 decision by the court to cancel the contract with Capital Office Supply, rebid the project and compensate his business for costs associated with its bid.

Bowers also takes issue with the lack of a joint venture option during the bidding process and how the state scored bids. The bids were evaluated on a points system; sixty points were available, with 30 assigned to furniture costs, 20 for project management and 10 for labor. Bowers reasons that low-cost items are given a “disproportionate amount of weight, resulting in the lowest cost proposal getting fewer points than a proposal with the highest overall cost.”

Bowers doesn’t specify in the filing whether his bid would have been more competitive if not for what he considers to be a skewed bid evaluation process.

In its Proposal for Action, General Services disagrees with Bowers and the court that they subverted the purposes of competitive bidding. The agency says changes made to the office furniture contract were not material as defined by previous court cases surrounding the state’s procurement policies.

“The Division has never maintained that that [sic] this contract is outside the code,” General Services’ filing states. “To the contrary, the Division has maintained throughout these proceedings that the process it followed was explicitly provided for under the code.”

The agency is asking that Bowers’ case be dismissed for not making clear his points of contention at the beginning of the appeals process. The court has allowed Bowers some leniency in filing his grievance. General Services maintains that creating an exception for pro se protestors “would set a dangerous precedent…”

“The burden should not fall on the agency defending the protest to guess the basis for protest. Nor should the protestor be given an open-ended opportunity to identify issues on appeal at any time leading up to, or, the hearing,” General Services’ filing states. “The Division is mindful of the fact that the protestor here is pro se, but, as Bowers pointed out at the status conferences and at hearing, this protestor is experienced in filing protest appeals...”

Even if the court finds that General Services “exceeded the authority of the cooperative agreement”, the agency is asking Hultberg to reject a decision that would require them to cancel the contract with Capital Office Supply and rebid the project. The agency also says Bowers is not entitled to any compensation.

Until the Office of Administrative Hearings reissues a decision, the state maintains its contract with Capital Office Supply and may purchase office furniture to implement its Universal Space Standards plan.

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