Barter or charity: California seeks free IT security services

California's state Department of Motor Vehicles issued a request for quotation with unusual terms: requesting bidders to supply free work.

California's state Department of Motor Vehicles issued a request for quotation (RFQ) with unusual terms: requesting bidders to supply free IT security services.

The RFQ document describes this request (emphasis added):

The purpose of this Request for Quotation (EXE10-0024) is to acquire a Contractor to perform a no-fee security risk assessment of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) current security operations processes. In submitting a quote, bidders must comply with the instructions found herein. Please read the enclosed document carefully. If the DMV accepts the services at no cost, the DMV has no further obligations or hidden costs associated with acceptance.

While one can understand a cash-strapped government agency soliciting free service, most vendors expect a quid pro quo in exchange for performing work. However, the RFQ specifically disallows anticipated obligations, as described in the bold quote above.

In effect, California wants vendors to provide charity services, although it's likely most respondents view the RFQ as a barter opportunity. I explained this to Jon Ortiz from the Sacramento Bee:

Companies that will work for nothing are often inexperienced and want to add a big-time name to their client list, he said. Sometimes they're trying out new products or services. Most expect the free work will lead to paid work later.

"Regardless, bidding out free work isn't reasonable, and it's not the best way for a major government agency to get mission-critical services."

This is not the first time that the state's IT-related judgment has been called into question.

Related: Follow-up: Duration reporting in California's IT strategic plan

It is important to note that the state's dashboard of current IT projects currently totals about $5.5 billion. One person close to the state's IT department explained that determining the accuracy of this scorecard would require careful audits of each department supplying data.

[Photo, by Michael Krigsman, showing two people haggling on price and perhaps discussing whether free IT services will deliver anticipated value to California.]

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