This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
Many years ago a Departmental order forbade the requirement of any particular item so as to limit competition, or the mention of any particular material or appliance, "or its equal;" as a consequence, in the specification, there must be inserted such descriptions as will require appliances or materials which can be had through competition and which will accomplish the ends required. The Contractor is at liberty to obtain his samples for approval in any market he desires; but when such samples are approved, it is a very difficult matter to get a change made; were it otherwise, the Department would be constantly annoyed and delayed in its work by Contractors changing their minds relative to the parties with whom they wish to deal.
It is often urged by persons controlling some new and special appliance, that it is not good business for the Department to refuse to specify an article having all the good points which they can show to belong to the particular article controlled by them. If this idea governed, the office of the Supervising Architect would be overwhelmed by enthusiastic men with material and appliances of very doubtful value; and generally their claims would be urged by them and their representatives with a strenuousness in direct proportion to their worthlessness.
Experience has also shown that where competition relative to items entering into work has not existed, the persons controlling them rarely resist the temptation to charge abnormal prices. This results in the Contractor seeking relief at the Department and asking to be permitted to make a substitution; if this is granted, the higher bidders at once set up the claim that their figures were based on the specified requirements, and if they had known that such were not to be enforced their bid would have been low enough to capture the contract.
After a contract is once made, no one other than the Secretary of the Treasury, or, under certain circumstances, an Assistant Secretary, has the authority to make a change, no matter how small. The Superintendent on the work can allow no variations; nor has even the Supervising Architect himself any authority to make a change. For instance, two rough coats of plaster are required back of a certain wainscot; it is found advisable to omit the second; the area is small, and the difference in expense nothing; but the Superintendent must obtain from the Contractor a proposal to omit this coat without expense to the Government; and after this proposal has gone through the different divisions of the Supervising Architect's office for note, comment, and recommendation, the Assistant Secretary accepts the proposal in regular form as a public exigency, and with the understanding that it is not to affect the time for completion, or the obligation of the Sureties on the bond; etc., etc. If it were otherwise, the Superintendent would be constantly harrassed by requests and arguments for changes; and if he permitted changes, the worst of motives would be imputed to him.
So thorough is the system in the Department, that there is no detail too small for the fullest consideration. There is probably no Architect's office elsewhere in the world where all details receive such attention; and there are few transactions of any nature occurring within recent years, of which all details cannot be obtained by any official in the office in less than ten minutes.
When the red tape of the Department is considered from various standpoints, and the results reviewed, it should inspire more respect than is usually accorded to it; and the man who is seeking contracts or sub-contracts should first of all get into the spirit of the business methods of the Department, make his bid to cover all its requirements, and, if he gets the contract, use his best efforts to live up to the letter of every requirement. Such lines will bring success. Carelessness in following such will bring failure.
It is often stated that such and such persons have the "inside track" with Department work, and that there is no use bidding against them. This is in a sense true; but in all such cases it will be found that that "inside track" was laid by the Contractor getting in line with the Department's methods and doing business as thereby required; and the way is open for any other man to lay for himself such an inside track.
There is a prevalent impression that it requires some special effort to have an opportunity to figure on Department work. There could, however, be no greater mistake, as every effort is made by the Supervising Architect to obtain the best competition. For every building, from forty to sixty sets of drawings and specifications are printed and sent without charge (being carried both ways free) to any general contractor who makes an application. In a very few instances a certified cheque is required, the proceeds of which are returned upon the receipt of the drawing, etc., in the office. Sub-contractors and material men cannot be supplied, as it is impracticable to make a sufficient number of sets, and for the farther reason that it is desired that all sub-contractors and material men shall get all the information on which they base their bids from their principals, thus avoiding the danger of differences of opinion that might arise relative to the scope of the sub-bids.
When bids are desired, the work is advertised for from four to seven weeks, in representative technical journals throughout the country in the general section in which the work is to be done, and in the local papers of the town or city in which the building is to be erected. Notices as news items are sent to a very large line of trade papers, and also to Contractors within a few hundred miles of the city whose addresses are available; but such notices are discontinued if the party addressed does not submit a bid after notices of several buildings have been sent.
Many material men send in requests that their specialties be specified, and when they find that that cannot be done, drop all interest; whereas, if they followed up the matter, ascertained to whom the contract was awarded, and endeavored to arrange to sell any materials handled by them required under the contract, they would often obtain profitable contracts.