On being balanced in an unbalanced world

Martin Skitmore, D. Cattell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
166 Downloads (Pure)


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 underpricing the work items that occur later in the project in order to enhance the bidder's cash flow. Naturally, auctioners 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. This paper reports on a simulation study aimed at demonstrating the likely effects of unbalanced bid detection models in a deterministic environment involving FL unbalancing in a Texas DOT detection setting, in which bids are deemed to be unbalanced if an item exceeds a maximum (or fails to reach a minimum) cut-off value determined by the Texas method. A proportion of bids are automatically and maximally unbalanced over a long series of simulated contract projects and the profits and detection rates of both the balancers and unbalancers are compared. The results show that, as expected, the balanced bids are often incorrectly detected as unbalanced, with the rate of (mis)detection increasing with the proportion of FL bidders in the auction. It is also shown that, while the profit for balanced bidders remains the same irrespective of the number of FL bidders involved, the FL bidder's profit increases with the greater proportion of FL bidders present in the auction. Sensitivity tests show the results to be generally robust, with (mis)detection rates increasing further when there are fewer bidders in the auction and when more data are averaged to determine the baseline value, but being smaller or larger with increased cut-off values and increased cost and estimate variability depending on the number of FL bidders involved. The FL bidder's expected benefit from unbalancing, on the other hand, increases, when there are fewer bidders in the auction. It also increases when the cut-off rate and discount rate is increased, when there is less variability in the costs and their estimates, and when less data are used in setting the baseline values.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)138-146
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Operational Research Society
Issue number1
Early online date18 Apr 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013


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