The Laziest RFP Ever

By: Ben Wood, Published on Aug 13, 2013

Bad RFPs - out of date, vague or just plain confusing - are common. But this RFP is on a whole other level. It is as if no one even looked at it before the project was put out for bid. A small town doing this is perhaps understandable, but it is far more perplexing when a US federal agency that should have the resources to come up with something better does this. In this update we review an RFP for a 2013 project using specs so old you might have to visit an antique shop to find some of the equipment.

The highlights from this RFP

VCR Storage

If someone can find standard 1/2 inch VHS tapes, that would be one way to fulfill the storage requirements for this RFP which lists time-lapse VCRs as an option. It says VCR must allow for repeat recording, a built in time and date generator and a tape counter. It also must have a daylight saving time setting, an automatic head cleaner and 120-second rewind.

The other option, for storing digital video, is a DVR or NVR with at least an Intel Pentium III processor (originally released in 1999) and 256 MB RAM. It should record at 30fps and have built-in motion detection and masking accessible from the Internet, Intranet or PDA. Windows 98 is the specified operating system.

According to the RFP, "The type of recording device utilized should be determined by the size and type of CCTV System designed and installed, and to what extent the system is to be utilized." One of the bidders we spoke to says the only response to questions about the spec was that if an integrator was "not supplying specified material, submittals will need to be approved as an equal," essentially leaving it up to the integrator what the final equipment will look like.

Server Requirements

A PC with 256 MB RAM, 120 MB of memory using a Pentium IV to run Windows XP and Internet Explorer 5.5 or better. Both Pentium IV processors and IE 5.5 were originally released in 2000. 

Facial Recognition

The VA first said the system must have facial recognition software for cameras at entrances "for identifying individuals.” However in response to a potential bidder’s question during a Q&A period, it said analytics software was not required, and they only wanted capability to see a face clearly using optical zoom. See the full Q&A here

Mix of Analog and IP Cameras

The technical specifications are for analog cameras (fixed and PTZ) and IP compressing in MPEG-4 or MJPEG. The RFP specifies both, although says analog and digital will not be integrated systems.  

As for image quality, the specs are not very specific. 

  • "Interior cameras need to provide equal quality or higher than the current cameras installed."
  • IP cameras must produce a picture equivalent to an analog camera
  • "Exterior camera’s need the following: Facial recognition, good resolution, TPZ, color/black and white, cover’s over the cameras to protect them from the elements [sic]."

FIPS Compliant 

"All DVR's and NVR's that are viewable over an Intranet or Internet will be routed through an encryptor," the RFP says. The RFP originally also said encryptors must comply with FIPS PUB 140-2. That changed after a potential bidder called out the fact that the existing system was not FIPS compliant. 

"[A] system does not allow us to have some FIPS compliant and some not. It is either all or nothing," the bidder wrote. The VA responded, "FIPS compliance is not required. Please ignore any references to FIPS compliance." The VA might want to triple check this before this system gets installed. It wouldn't be the first time they had some trouble over using noncompliant devices

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From only reading the spec (the VA Center declined to answer questions about the project) the center already has some existing surveillance infrastructure. The winning bidder will be responsible for re-locating six existing cameras, installing another six cameras and installing eight door alarms. The winning bidder is tasked with examining the existing system to make sure the new equipment is compatible and provide a report to the contracting officer on what it would cost to correct any deficiencies.

Camera placement diagrams were included. 

First Floor:

Second Floor:

Terrible RFP

Does the VA even know what they want at all for this project? They should be embarrassed for releasing a spec like this in 2013 or at all. It is clear that no one took a second look at this after they pulled it out of whatever dusty folder it was tucked away in and it would put our for bids hoping the integrators would pick up the pieces. Surprisingly, the solicitation only got six questions from potential bidders. And none of them asked “Why the VCR?” or the myriad other questions that it seems would take to make sense of this. Indeed, many probably ran the other way after seeing such a bizarrely outdated spec.

Unfortunately, the joke is on the VA because if the winning bidder uses a VCR or 10 year old PC, it is going to be hard for them to object given the way the RFP was written.



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