In the Local Government Guidelines manual on TDOT’s website, and in several other forms that you may get from the TDOT Local Programs Office it may talk about using local force account on your project as a possible option. Local force account is defined as the use of the current full-time employees rather than contract labor.
Here is the deal, in reality this is not an option on regular roadway projects. It may be a different story in the Transportation Enhancement (TE) grant world, or their may be some limited reasons where it would work on non-construction projects (diesel retrofit projects, air quality outreach programs, and other non-roadway projects). For 99% of all non-TE projects it is not an option. In the four and a half years that I worked in the TDOT Local Programs Office I had exactly zero projects that used local forces. One community looked into it and quickly just built the project with their own funding.
You may ask the question of “well, won’t using our local people to do x, or y save cost and be more efficient”? The answer is almost always yes, using City/Town/County employees that you already have on staff will save money. The thing to remember is that this is Federal or State money, not your local funds. All of the laws and rules around Federal and State money point to only one direction: you must bid the project out and award to the lowest responsive bidder. Period.
Now don’t confuse this with the Federal consultant selection process. In that process you are hiring professional services, must advertise requesting qualifications and select the most qualified firm. By Federal Law you CAN NOT use price as a selection criteria for professional services. Price is negotiated after you select the most qualified firm.
The next question is can a local government staff bill the time they spend managing the project as part of a reimbursable project expense? The answer to that is yes. You will have to submit details on what they did, how many hours, and the total hourly rate that includes not just salary but the total overhead. Jason McCoy of the TDOT Local Programs Office can help you work through that, but it is not a big deal.
I know that this can get confusing. Please feel free to contact me, or the TDOT Local Programs Office if you need any further explanation.