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Sizing Up The Competition: Maryland Public Information Act

The Maryland Public Information Act provides the general public with access to government procurement records.

Losing a government contract to a competitor can feel a bit anticlimactic after all the hard work and effort that goes into submitting a proposal.   Many contractors want to know why one bid was chosen over another.

The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) may satisfy that curiosity.

According to the Maryland State Finance and Procurement Article §13-210, before the awarding of a procurement contract, a government agency may not disclose the contents of a proposal to any person other than a person responsible for the evaluation of the proposals.  However, once a contract is awarded, all proposals are open to public disclosure. 

Even if the contract is already awarded, savvy contractors understand that the Maryland PIA can be used to size up the competition. Contractors may request copies and records maintained by the agency that awarded the contract.  The ability to review copies of proposals submitted by incumbent contractors is extremely valuable. 

The PIA has the ability to level the playing field.  It allows contractors to learn from successful bidders and develop a competitive edge for the next proposal.  It may even help a contractor decide if it should submit a bid protest or appeal to the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals (MSBCA).  MSBCA decisions are available to the public as well.  

The PIA is outlined in Maryland State Government Article §10-611 through 630.  It deals specifically with access to public information from the three branches of the Maryland government. The Maryland PIA is similar to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which applies to federal executive branch agencies. 

The process for filing a PIA request is relatively simple.  Anyone can submit a request. There is no central agency responsible for the requests.   Requests are simply submitted to the agency in question.   Sometimes, a phone call request will suffice. Some agencies ask for the request in writing, and some other agencies have a specific request form. Each agency retains the right to charge a reasonable fee for research and copies of public records. 

There are exemptions under the PIA, and disputes sometimes arise regarding whether particular documents are subject to disclosure.  In addition, there are limits on the scope of the information regarding a competitor that businesses can gather.  Disclosure will usually be subject to a confidentiality order, or redacting of certain commercial, financial or other proprietary information.   This review is often limited to the attorneys for the parties. 

For more information on the process of requesting public information, assistance with bid protests, or representation for a document’s public release, please contact Lou Kozlakowski at WCS Law.

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