Forum matters: procurement judgment
In August 2019, I traveled to my sixth NIGP Annual Forum. I have enjoyed every Forum since the 2014 Forum in Philadelphia, but this year surpassed all previous years in terms of establishing and strengthening relationships, building teams, and gaining knowledge. As an NIGP staff member, I have the privilege of working virtually with procurement professionals, academics, and suppliers throughout the year. Forum presents an opportunity to meet these amazing volunteers in person. Forum is also my opportunity to support task force members who have developed guidance for public procurement practices by attending their sessions.
Attendance at the session by Stéphanie Dion, Victor Leamer, and Michael Thornton on Request for Proposals: Different, but not Difficult was one such session. These procurement professionals, along with Sharon Rothwell and Distinguished Service Award Winner Stacy Gregg formed the NIGP task force that developed the recently published practice on Request for Proposals (RFPs).
Support and camaraderie motivated my attendance. How could I have known that a nuance about procurement policy was about to come my way? At NIGP, I manage the Accreditation Program and conduct the preliminary review for Outstanding Agency Achievement Accreditation Award (OA4) submissions. With each application review, I had become increasingly convinced of the importance of policies that support and specify the authority and responsibility of Procurement.
The Forum presentation threw a wrench into or, more accurately, helped scaffold and deepen that understanding. The team underscored that policies should be general enough to allow for procurement judgment and flexibility.
Procurement judgment refers to the values, education, expertise, and experience of procurement professionals that are applied to decisions and actions. Public procurement values, i.e., accountability, ethics, impartiality, professionalism, service, and transparency, were developed from the public procurement pillars of public service, public trust, and justice. Procurement expertise includes performance of specialized skills, knowledge, and competencies. Examples include market, cost, price, value and spend analysis; enabling regulations and compliance; sourcing and solicitation methods; contract management and performance; and relationship management with internal clients and suppliers.
The American Bar Association’s Model Procurement Code §3-203 Competitive Sealed Proposals, (1) Conditions for Use. provides an example of flexible wording that allows for the use of an RFP and defers to the judgment of the Chief Procurement Office or head of Procurement to decide when to use it.
A contract may be entered into by competitive sealed proposals when the Chief Procurement Officer, the head of a Purchasing Agency, or a designee of either officer above the level of the Procurement Officer determines in writing, pursuant to regulations, that the use of competitive sealed bidding is either not practicable or not advantageous to the [State].
In a profession that is moving swiftly from a reactive, transactional function to a proactive, strategic function, the more flexibility and latitude provided in policies, the better and more often procurement professionals can apply their judgment. How many of us have been stuck in the loop of an automated call or spoken to an employee with a script? Progress is impossible. Perhaps we press zero multiple times until we are connected to a real person or we ask to speak to a supervisor. Either way, we want to interact with someone with authority and professional judgment who can understand our situation and resolve it.
Judgment is necessary, too, as not every situation can be predicted. Nor do we want to be suffocated in infinite numbers of “Dolores Umbridge Decrees” to cover every known condition or circumstance. For scenarios that we can and do plan for, there still may be unintended consequences. Policies can guide us, but each situation is unique. Judgment informed by values, education, expertise, and experience is crucial.
Policies should enable, not restrict. They should state the overarching principles guiding procurement operations and allow for professional judgment. Judgment may direct procurement professionals to consult with other stakeholders and experts, for example, when providing technical advice and interpreting the intent of legislation. Judgment plays a role, too, in the analysis of situations and procurements, which require consideration of multiple factor such as policies and procedures, precedents, trade agreements, historical practice, risk tolerance, and operational requirements.
The more that procurement professionals successfully apply judgment, the more likely they may be regarded as trusted strategic partners. The ever-increasing demands of procurement are best served through flexible policies applied through professional judgment. Decisions and actions can then align with public procurement values and guiding principles to respond to entity needs and fulfill Procurement’s responsibility to achieve public service, public trust, and justice.
Lisa Premo is NIGP Global Practices Manager, and Stéphanie Dion, Michael Thornton and Victor Leamer are NIGP RFP Task Force members.