Honolulu city officials are looking to change the way they award construction contracts, so instead of being automatically awarded to the lowest bidder, construction projects would be given to companies with records of on-time performance and good workmanship.
Current state procurement law requires the counties to award construction projects to companies that bid the least amount of money, regardless of their track record.
"We are forced to deal with the lowest bidder. And that's not necessarily the best in all situations," said Lori Kahikina, who heads the city's design and construction department, which oversees building and renovation of city facilities on Oahu.
Kahikina said her department and the city budget department are looking at changing the procurement procedure, so each contractor would submit two envelopes with their bid. The first would contain their qualifications and the second envelope would list their dollar price bid.
"There would be a selection committee that would look at the first envelope first and weed out the contractors that are not qualified," Kahikina said.
City purchasing officials would open the second set of envelopes with the bid amount, considering only those bids from contractors with good track records.
"So it's not strictly low bid. There is quality, best value looked at," Kahikina said.
Kahikina said the state legislature may need to change state procurement law to allow this type of change when it convenes later this month.
Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard supports such a move so that the city does not have ?contractors coming in artificially bidding low, so they get the contract and they either end up taking too long or they don't meet the intent of the project and in the end it ends up costing taxpayers a lot more money."
"It goes back to keeping records and making sure that things are documented. If there are these problems, that they are documented and that the departments are talking to each other," said Gabbard, who represents Downtown Honolulu, Punchbowl, Nuuanu and Liliha.
As an example of the problem, Gabbard points to the new Ewa gym project being built off Renton Road by a company that was the low bidder, a company called 57 Builders.
The Ewa project has run into several problems and the city now plans to fine the contractor thousands of dollars because it will be at least one month late in finishing the job, according to Kahikina.
The general contractors association supports changing the bidding procedures, Kahikina said.
Pacific Resource Partnership, a lobbying group funded by the Carpenters Union, also likes the idea.
"You should also look at have they performed work in Hawaii and have they done a good job? Have they fulfilled their contract in the time they said they would. Have there been problems with the project after the construction was done?" said John White, executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership.
People familiar with the city procurement process said adding subjective evaluation criteria like whether a certain company has done a good job on a city construction project could lead to more bid protests by losing bidders in the future, slowing down the bidding process.
But city officials said they need to try to do something to improve the quality of workmanship on city jobs.
If the city puts out a project to bid, it must be awarded to the lowest bidder. But if the city uses the request for proposals process, asking for RFPs, as they are called, officials can award contracts to the consultant or company considered best qualified. And RFPs are not automatically awarded to the lowest bidder, city officials said.