Reverse Auctions…. The Only Way to Win the Game is to Not Play
by Art Rouse
In 2013, the Department of the Interior and Army Corps of Engineers announced they were considering expanding the reverse auction method to eastern North Carolina for jobs that small businesses can perform. This is a method whereby the Owner posts a price online and registered bidders will bid the price down until time expires and a low bidder is declared.
I had some experience with reverse auctions about 20 years ago when Target Stores decided they were going to start using reverse auctions for their construction projects. Needless to say, we didn’t get much work with Target until they stopped the practice. We only got one in Lawton Oklahoma where we were the only bidder. A sophisticated company, even in the worst of times, will not price below the cost of labor and materials, plus taxes and overhead, and the cost of working capital. They may price at cost hoping to buy it down, but they will never knowingly go into a job at a loss. An unsophisticated company, hungry for work, can be tempted to take work too cheaply. Work they may not be able to afford the interest on for the duration of the project until they can collect final payment and retainage.
In other words, reverse auctions deprive contractors of a fair profit. I am in favor of reducing government waste, but not at the cost of unfair business practices.
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY), has introduced a bill, HR-2751, to ban these practices. The Associated General Contractors has testified before Congress in favor of this bill and recommends everyone ask their Congressman to co-sponsor or support this bill. It is scheduled for a committee vote in March, 2014. Subcontractors should support this bill as well.