As a consultant in public procurement and a master instructor for NIGP, I often hear my clients and students complain that they are not regarded and respected as professionals.
The fact of the matter is that how you are regarded and respected depends on what you do and how you do it. You can begin to boost your regard as a “professional” by asking yourself some key questions that may help you spell out your value to your entity as a procurement professional.
The first set of questions will define how you spend your time, energy, and expertise. Bearing in mind what your annual procurement-dollar volume is, ask yourself what percentage of your procurement activity is spent processing small-dollar purchases (under $1,000 in value), as opposed to large-dollar purchases and contracts. Over the past two years I’ve asked my clients and students from state and local governments, universities, and school districts that same question and generally found that more than 80 percent of their purchasing activity involved small purchases that accounted for less than four percent of their entity’s total procurement spending. That means that only 20 percent of their time is dedicated to 96 percent of the spending. That isn’t an effective application of a procurement professional’s time, energy, and expertise.
That raises a number of important follow-up questions:
- Are you training user personnel to conduct small purchases, verifying their competence before delegating small-purchase authority to them, and then holding them accountable?
- Does management understand the benefits of professional procurement? If not, what are you doing to ensure that they will?
- How much time do you spend answering questions and putting out fires, as opposed to developing and implementing an effective strategic plan?
That leads to the next basic issue: how procurement itself is valued by your entity. We all know procurement gets knocked as being the tail that wags the dog. If it’s true, it’s probably because procurement is at the wrong end of the darn dog. Let’s look at some of the questions you can ask that will reveal whether procurement is seen as an afterthought or as a strategic management tool.
- What percentage of your work is spent on sole source, emergency, and after-the-fact purchases?
- Is large-dollar purchasing or contracting activity being conducted outside of the procurement office by non-certified personnel? If so, how much, by whom, and why?
- Are you authorized to sign contracts as the legal agent for your jurisdiction, or do you do the work and prepare the contracts for someone else’s signature? If others sign, do they also mediate disputes and represent the entity at protest and appeals hearings, and are they professionally certified in public procurement?
- When was the last time you or your entity conducted a procurement customer survey or procurement compliance audit? Was action taken on the results?
These are crucial questions that need to be proactively addressed, and it takes a procurement professional to do it. The answers may be a tough pill to swallow, but these queries are the first step in achieving healthy procurement results.
Editor’s Note: Beau Grant, CPPO, is a master instructor for the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) and president of Beau-Geste Enterprises. Readers can reach Grant by e-mail at [email protected].