As difficult as they may be to accept, we all know that disagreements and disputes are unavoidable in life. The world of federal procurement is no exception.
Given the large number of contracts the federal government issues each year, disputes with suppliers are inevitable. And we know these disputes often have negative repercussions that can distract both parties from what their real focus should be – completing the contract on time and within budget.
Suppliers contacting our office often lament that disputes lead to increased costs and damaged reputations. Government program managers express their frustration to us about how the dispute is jeopardizing the completion of the contract and its impact on the looming deadline. All too often we’re approached when disputes have become drawn-out and complicated, and resulted in loss of time and money. The situation has unravelled to the point where it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep the lines of communication open and to find common ground.
So what have we learned in helping resolve these types of disputes?
At their root, most disputes we mediate are a result of some sort of ineffective communications. Often, the terms and conditions of the contract are vague, roles and responsibilities are unclear, or the obligations of the parties are not clearly defined. In these instances, it is little wonder things have gone off the rails.
We have also seen cases where performance indicators are either absent, weak or simply not used, representing a missed opportunity to keep things on track during the course of the contract. Other times, amendments which were neither anticipated nor discussed when the contract was put in place are informally made, or undocumented verbal agreements are reached placing both parties to the contract at risk.
Occasionally, these ineffective communications are the result of a simple disconnect or lack of interaction between the program manager requiring the good or service, the procurement officer tasked with putting the contract in place, and the suppliers who have to deliver the good or service.
The best fix? Avoid these pitfalls at the outset through clear terms and conditions, ongoing communication with your procurement officer and suppliers, and regular monitoring of the work.
And in situations where you encounter that dreaded unavoidable contract dispute, my office can help. Our services allow you to take a step back, reduce the “noise” and focus energy on resolving issues. Our certified mediators help clarify issues and promote constructive dialogue. The parties to the contract retain control over the outcome and any agreed-to solution is legally binding. In short, our no-fee service is less stressful and quicker than litigation, and can go a long way in restoring your relationship with the supplier.
So if you are experiencing a contract-related dispute, call us…we are here to help!
For more information on OPO’s services, please visit: opo-boa.gc.ca, or follow OPO on Twitter @OPO_Canada.