On being balanced in an unbalanced world
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This paper examines the case of a procurement auction for a single project, in which the breakdown of the winning bid into its component items determines the value of payments subsequently made to bidder as the work progresses. Unbalanced bidding, or bid skewing, involves the uneven distribution of mark-up among the component items in such a way as to attempt to derive increased benefit to the unbalancer but without involving any change in the total bid. One form of unbalanced bidding for example, termed Front Loading (FL), is thought to be widespread in practice. This involves overpricing the work items that occur early in the project and under-pricing the work items that occur later in the project in order to enhance the bidder's cash flow. Naturally, auctioneers attempt to protect themselves from the effects of unbalancing—typically reserving the right to reject a bid that has been detected as unbalanced. As a result, models have been developed to both unbalance bids and detect unbalanced bids but virtually nothing is known of their use, success or otherwise. This is of particular concern for the detection methods as, without testing, there is no way of knowing the extent to which unbalanced bids are remaining undetected or balanced bids are being falsely detected as unbalanced.
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