Vote YES on best-value standard for Philly contracts

The Philadelphia skyline, from the Spring Garden Street Bridge.

As one of the few female executives in the male-dominated construction industry, I’m no stranger to facing adversity in getting the job done the right way. That is why I’m backing an important effort to modernize the way Philadelphia awards contracts for public works projects — big construction projects designed to improves the lives of residents and visitors.

The existing rules — 66 years old — dictate that the city must always award contracts to the business with the lowest price deemed responsible to carry out the work. Equally important factors, like past performance or diversity, are never considered.

I can tell you from my 28 years of experience in the construction industry that looking only at price just doesn’t work for big capital construction projects, where factors like quality of work and past performance are crucial.

Tuesday, Philadelphia voters have the opportunity to change those outdated rules, by voting on an important ballot question in the City’s municipal primary election. Known as “best value,” this proposal would allow the Procurement Office to award contracts based on overall best value to the city rather than price alone.

Adopting a best-value standard would open the door to more qualified businesses than ever before — minority, women-owned, veteran, you name it. The same businesses that make our region stronger, and know how to get the job done but may be shut out of the process due to the city’s outdated laws.

Other cities have long seen the true value in best value — of the 20 largest U.S. cities, 18 now practice it. Only Philadelphia and Indianapolis do not. The federal government and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania also are guided by best-value practices. It’s time for our city to catch up.

Simply put, best value will allow the city to get the most of every dollar spent, and include more of the local and minority-led businesses that contribute so much to our regional economy and the hardworking fabric of our city. The same businesses and workers that keep our wheels spinning and our infrastructure moving, and make our community a better place.

As the past director of capital projects for the city under Mayor Ed Rendell, I lived daily with the repercussions of awarding projects to the lowest responsible bidder, so, I know firsthand what the issues are. Over the years I have spoken to City Council and member companies in the General Building Contractors Association and the Philadelphia Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, of which I am a member and past chairwoman, to ensure that best value is the right move for Philadelphia. Not just today, but for well into the future.

So, when you go to the polls, know that best value is in the best interest of Philadelphia taxpayers and the businesses that make our city strong. Approving best value will mean we don’t simply get the job done — we get it done the right way.

Emily Bittenbender is the managing partner of Bittenbender Construction. emily@bittenbenderconstruction.com