By Matthew (Matt) Hilliard, Bay Area Regional Compliance Manager. -
Our members, partners and supporters are frequently asking; “What’s the difference between a public agency’s force account limit and their bid threshold.” The person asking the question tends to be confused because they think they are one and the same.
Here's the difference by definition.
The Force Account limit is the limit of work that a public agency can do with its own forces before they must go out for competitive bids. Force account is the dollar value of labor, materials and equipment at the rate the public agencies charge themselves. Labor cost calculations are based on the entity’s actual cost of labor. Force account limits do not apply to maintenance work.
The Bid Threshold is the dollar amount at which an entity, if they are going to use a contractor, must bid out the work. This is sometimes set by a local ordinance, but is commonly used with Charter Cities. It may, but does not need to be the same as their force account limit.
Here’s where limits and thresholds get a little tricky, but we are available to help.
California State Law (General Law) defined in the California Public Contract Code (PCC) sets the force account limits and bid thresholds for public agencies. They vary by type of agency. For example, a general law city has a force account limit of $5,000, while a county has a $4,000 limit if their population is less than 500,000 and $6,500 if it is above 500,000. All new work over that amount must be formally advertised for competitive bid. School Districts and Special Districts have different force account limits.
Charter Cities can write their own rules but the local voters must approve these rules. They may set force account limits and bidding thresholds at different levels. CIFAC will always encourage Cities to follow general law when it comes to the public contracting section of their Charter.
Then there are public agencies that are signatory to the California Uniform Construction Cost Accounting Act (CUCCAA). They can self-perform the work to $45,000 and use informal bidding up to $175,000, above which they must advertise for formal bidding.
As you have read, the definitions of force account limits and bid thresholds are clearly different and there are a variety of formulas Counties, Cities and Special Districts use. That is why CIFAC exists. We use our expert knowledge of the Public Contract Code to help you with your questions and get you the answers you need.