Texas transit agency relies on squad of temporary procurement pros
The Dallas (Texas) Area Rapid Transit (DART) system moves passengers around Dallas and 12 surrounding cities. The agency’s extensive network of DART Light Rail, Trinity Railway Express commuter rail, bus routes and paratransit services moves more than 220,000 passengers per day across the system’s 700-square-mile service area.
The system has several major construction initiatives in the pipeline, including the Cotton Belt Corridor Regional Rail Project. The project involves multiple procurements, says John Adler, DART’s vice president of procurement. “We will procure separate contracts for 1) design-build, 2) commuter rail vehicles, 3) construction of equipment-maintenance-facilities through the Construction Manager General Contractor (CMGC) method, and 4) program manager/owners representative for Cotton Belt.”
Because DART’s various construction projects ramp up and down at different times, the agency relies on “seconded” staffers, Adler tells Coop Solutions. They are full-time contract employees under staff augmentation contracts. These contracts provide for specialized skillsets, including procuring professional design services, design-build and public-private partnership contractors and products and services unique to rail. “We bring in a team of temporary, ‘seconded’ procurement professionals. We have about 15 working with us at this time, including a design-build professional.” Adler says relying on “seconded” staffers gives DART managers access to personnel with essential skills that ensure construction procurements go smoothly.
Adler believes solving the skills and competency gaps are the biggest challenges facing public procurement teams in 2019. “We need to develop the core competencies necessary to deal with the accelerating advances in technology. Our methods also need to evolve. Technology contracts do not always fit our traditional models. They need to be modular, agile and with interchangeable parts.”
Adler says the recent Volcker Alliance report, “Doing the People’s Business: Key Competencies for Effective Public Procurement,” shows the need to build skills and competencies in government purchasing. The report, which includes a survey of procurement practitioners, leaders and suppliers, spotlights 12 key competencies for effective public procurement. The report notes that a majority of survey respondents consider the procurement workforce proficient in only four of the 12 identified competencies.
On the staffing front, DART recruits at least two supply chain grad interns each year. One intern was recently hired full-time as a logistics analyst, Adler says. He says that there are a number of universities with good supply chain programs in the area. His procurement managers are working closely with several of the programs to recruit interns. “We do try to bring our interns onboard following graduation, but we have to work through the personnel rules,” Adler says. “We look for smart interns with good problem-solving skills and a passion for public procurement. We can teach procurement. We cannot teach smart.”
Dart’s procurement team relies on cooperative contracts for a variety of purchases, including technology products, hardware, police vehicles and building materials. Cooperative agreements are also used for some small purchases. The agency relies on Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) and Texas Multiple Award Schedule program (MAS) contracts sometimes when it goes the cooperative route.
“Some view cooperatives as time-savers, but we do a pretty thorough job of analyzing a cooperative contract before we use it. We need to be sure the contractor is responsible, the procurement was done right, the price is fair and reasonable and represents a good value to DART,” Adler tells Coop Solutions.
Adler says his agency uses cooperatives even though there are some challenges. “DART has a pretty aggressive, 30 percent minority- and women-owned business enterprise goal.” He adds, “Although we do not have a local business preference, we want to make sure our local businesses at least have an opportunity to compete for the cooperative contract.”
DART has an Innovation Portal that can help agency buyers obtain innovative or unique supplies, methods, or approaches from outside sources to accomplish DART’s mission. “The portal makes procurement look very smart,” Adler says.
He cites DART’s digital kiosk technology that greatly expands customer connectivity options. “Our kiosk project started as an unsolicited proposal through the portal. Now we have a contractor building 350-500 interactive portals on DART rail platforms at no cost to DART. The kiosks are excellent customer communication tools and DART will share advertising and small cell tower revenue with the contractor.”
Adler offers another example of the power of the Innovation Portal. “Procurement just completed negotiating a purchase contract for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) that started through the portal. We are projecting $1M per year in credits for using RNG.”
Adler says the Innovation Portal could yield more jackpots. “We have a couple other potential procurements cooking that came to us through the portal; a couple might solve system issues, a couple might produce significant cost reductions and there may be a couple more revenue generators.”
Adler’s procurement team continues to deliver results despite tight budgets. “We will make do by relying more on webinars and less on conferences and travel,” Adler says.
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. Contact: [email protected]