Montana Changes the Rules – It's All Public

There are many lessons to be learned by examining winning proposals. And its getting easier to get copies of winning proposals. In fact, in some jurisdictions winning proposals and the related documentation are available on demand. This change was not made by procurement officials looking to gain popularity with the supplier community. Typically, the easy access to information results from new laws or, as in the case of Montana, radical court rulings.

In both Canada and the U.S., the courts have played a major role in defining the rights and responsibilities of public sector buyers. In the U.S., most states have procurement statutes which set the major rules. However, in Montana, the state supreme court recently imposed a major new “responsibility”. All proposals are public property. Furthermore, all evaluation committee meetings in the State of Montana are now considered “public meetings”, with meeting notices and agendas posted 72 hours in advance. Offerors are even allowed to make recordings of the evaluation committee meetings. Evaluation committee member names have to be released if asked. Even site visits to vendors are considered public meetings if a quorum of the evaluation committee is in attendance!

Imagine if this Montana ruling were imposed where you do business. Anyone, including competing firms could attend the supplier presentations, sit in on briefings, and observe the deliberations of the evaluation committee in action.

A Montana Supreme Court ruling in May 1998 found that the law requiring that the contents of Requests for Proposals not be revealed to competing offerors conflicted with the public’s “right to know” provision in the Montana Constitution. In 1999, the Montana Legislature amended Section 18-4-304, MCA to reflect the changes required by the Supreme Court. The outcome of this ruling is twofold. First, the contents of the submitted proposals are now open to public inspection, including competing offerors and the media, at the time set for the receipt of proposals. Second, all meetings involving the evaluation of RFPs are open to the public and subject to the open meeting laws.

The decision is unambiguous. It states:

This case involves the perception of State officials that private negotiations are in the State’s short-term economic interest. However, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention made a clear and unequivocal decision that government operates most effectively, most reliably, and is most accountable when it is subject to public scrutiny. It is that fundamental principle of this State’s constitutional law which is the basis for this Court’s decision. (Page 17, etc…)

This ruling has re-defined many of the steps in the RFP process particularly those activities related to public meetings and open records.