Democratic House and Senate members of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) raised concerns about rules submitted by the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) addressing new requirements for the pre-qualification and pre-design of public improvements.

Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) and Rep. Tracy Heard (D-Columbus) asked DAS Assistant Director Randall Howard similar questions about the department’s actions to receive input from minority- and women-owned businesses on the final rule language, and what actions the department will take in its outreach efforts to announce these changes to businesses, particularly, minority and women-owned businesses that are not attached to a trade organization or local entity.

Rep. John Carney (D-Columbus), similarly asked what mechanisms DAS is putting in place to see that Ohio businesses and workers are able to receive these contracts versus an out-of-state company.

Additionally, Tavares asked where parties negatively impacted by these rule changes can address their issues.

Howard stated that the stakeholder meetings, seven in all, were announced to various trade organizations, lobbyists and interested parties, including local government entities via email. 

“I do believe DAS outreach was addressed and totally open for all participation,” the assistant director said. He said the rules include diversity and inclusion programs. “We are leaving it up to local authorities to follow these procedures and contract requirements.”

The rules in question define the contract selection process as a “best value” approach, in which proposals contain both pricing and performance components, and the award is based upon a combination of pricing and performance considerations to determine the offer deemed most advantageous and of the greatest value to the public authority.

It is up to DAS to adopt rules that set forth electronic advertising of construction opportunities for public improvement projects, including all requirements and proposal guidelines. Further rules set forth specific discretionary requirements for state and state institutions of higher education for electronic bidding.

Carney contended that the many Ohio construction firms and institutions he has spoken to are having trouble competing with bigger firms from Chicago and New York on construction projects because of bonding requirements. 

He said some of the larger Ohio firms he has spoken to still take issue with not being able to bid the larger projects because they don’t want to have their company tied up in just one project at a time. They prefer to have several projects to bid on of all sizes, a disadvantage he said these companies routinely have with larger out-of-state firms with greater bonding power. 

Howard answered, “The potential you are speaking of are ‘most valued projects’ worth $100 million — we see these once in a blue moon. I believe in the last 10 years we had two — less than a handful of that dollar amount. The vast majority of projects are much smaller in size.”

“When we have hundreds of projects and a finite amount of money in the capital budget, we would contend that Ohio firms have many more bites at the apple than previously,” Howard said.

Carney shot back. “If you aren’t hearing this, I’m delivering the message. It sounds like you haven’t heard this.”

Chairman Sen. Frank LaRose (R-Fairlawn) clarified that there is no JCARR prong violation and that comments should be kept to the rules.

Heard suggested that further discussion may be needed on these rules. LaRose said that if further legislative action is needed it will be taken up with DAS.