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.
It is a matter of interest to a very large body of contractors, sub-contractors, artisans of all callings, and material men and manufacturers, how the Department builds, and in what ways it differs from the average investor in its building operations and contracts.
There is a prevalent idea that mystery surrounds the getting the whole or any part of a government contract - that one must be on the inside and know how to pull the wires. This feeling arises probably from the facts that the Government as an Employer and Owner is a very different affair to deal with from a personal Owner; and, because of such difference, and because of the magnitude of the varied branches of work, rendering it necessary to have some fixed and unyielding rules and regulations to which all doing business with the Government must comply, the great mass of people who should be interested are apt to think that this is all "red tape" and that they cannot get near any of this work.
When the Owner and the Contractor in ordinary practice make an agreement, it is always modified by the personal conditions and qualities of each, so that the conditions and terms frequently differ materially in instances of work of the same character. With the Department, however, this cannot be The Department has fixed policies and rules, and is hedged about by law in such a way that it must be unyielding at all points; it cannot adapt the work to the conditions of the Contractor; it can take no chances; and anyone seeking to do business with the Department must lay aside all personal ideas of methods, and must seek from the first to get into the line of the Department's methods and requirements, even if these appear to be without reason. The Contractor who imagines that he can take a contract, and can afterwards have its lines modified to suit his own methods, which he may honestly believe to be better than the requirements of the Department, is not only bound to be disappointed, but is certain to lose a round sum before final settlement.
When bids are asked for the construction of a building, the drawings and specifications are so prepared that the bidder is given notice relative to every requirement; nothing is taken for granted; it is fully set forth to what extent he is to be responsible for the completion of the work, and he is shown all details leading up to such completion. How and when each payment shall be made, is fully explained. Many of these requirements are unusual; he may not, and probably does not, understand why they are inserted; but that is really none of his business; the requirement is plainly stated; and if he wants to put in a bid, he has but to figure just what the cost of the apparently useless requirements will be, and to add such amount to his bid.
The conditions which govern Treasury contracts are the result of the experience of many years; and if a greater proportion of private Owners and Contractors for private work would adopt similarly exact methods in their operations, they would be attended with much fewer annoyances and much less friction. The Department is just as rigid in not permitting a Contractor to furnish something for nothing, as it is in not permitting him to substitute a poorer article than that required by the contract. Should the Contractor under any circumstances make a substitution, he is never safe. The Superintendent on the work may pass it; but the Contractor never knows when some traveling Inspector or other official may be put on the work and detect the change. In that case, the Superintendent, as well as the Contractor, receives severe censure, and the Contractor has either to rectify the trouble or to consent to a deduction of a good round sum, which usually represents several times the difference in value between the material furnished and that required.
It is fully set forth in the specification, that, in case of dispute regarding what is required or regarding the value of extra work, either as an addition or as a deduction, the decision of the Supervising Architect is to be final; and this means more than such clauses in private specifications, for the Department cannot be sued, and, in case the Contractor objects to the ruling and stops work, the Department has the power to abrogate the contract and finish the work at the expense of the sureties on the Contractor's bond. Later the Contractor can bring a suit in the Court of Claims; but it is very rarely that any substantial change is made in the original rulings. This rather autocratic power appears one-sided, and at first thought unfair; and, because of such appearance, it is never exercised except under extreme conditions, after every effort at reasonable settlement has failed; and then the decisions are such that, as above stated, the Court of Claims rarely reverses them to any extent.
This power is necessary for the Government; otherwise the Department would be at all times subject to inroads and impositions which would make progress impossible.
The sub-contractor and material man has no right of lien; but he has a right, after a certain lapse of time, to bring suit against the Contractor; moreover, the bond required by the Government, equal to one-half of the contract price, is also for his benefit, so that he has the same protection under the bond as has the Department. Upon application, certified copies of all contracts and bonds are furnished for his use by the Department, free. But the Department is under no obligation, nor has it any right, to withhold payments from the Contractor at the request or demand of unpaid creditors.
The relations of sub-contractors and material men to the Department are peculiar in that they cannot in any way be recognized in a business connection; they have no more connection with the Department than a factory which makes the shoe sold by a dealer has with the customer. The Contractor is the only business man known or recognized; all business of whatever nature must come under his signature. A sub-contractor can get no information or directions from the Department's representative. If it were otherwise, the Contractor would have just cause for complaints relative to interference with his business by the Government.