Careful planning helps Va. housing agency keep purchases on track
Growing workloads are a fact of life, says Delores F. Adams, Director of Procurement & Resident Services at the Portsmouth (Va.) Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “Procurement departments such as ours are expected to do more with less staff or rely on less experienced staff. As people retire or move to other roles in the organization, the experienced personnel in procurement departments are faced with the challenge of keeping the ball rolling and ensuring the work gets done.”
Adams says newcomers into the procurement arena are great workers, but they lack on-the-job experience. “So staffers like me have to increase our workload as the new workers get trained. In my case, I lost an experienced procurement person who handled Request for Quotes. When this person left, I was expected to do quotes as well as complex solicitations such as Invitation for Bids (IFB) and Request for Proposals (RFP).”
Adams says her department’s staffing levels took a hit a few years back. “In my agency, there was a decrease in staffing and budget in 2018 that we haven’t recovered from. However, I have seen a commitment to more training and education, which leads to a more professional procurement team.” Adams sees stability on the horizon for purchasing teams across the U.S. “I believe procurement departments’ staffing and budgets are staying the same for 2020.” Besides the director’s position, Adams’ department includes two procurement specialists. The specialists help with administrative work in addition to their duties on their main jobs.
Procurement planning is a tool that can help lean-staffed departments get more efficient, Adams tells Co-op Solutions. “It means looking at the future needs and plans of the agency for a particular time frame so that solicitations can be scheduled to meet those needs. That way we can be more proactive than reactive in our purchasing practices.”
Through effective planning, buyers can purchase at the optimal time and achieve efficiencies, Adams says. “You can research other options (i.e. cooperative purchasing); you can maybe combine solicitations, etc. It also helps plan the workflow of the procurement staff, particularly when it is limited.”
Procurement planning can include prioritizing among different buying departments, Adams explains. “I ask my department heads to outline their needs at the end/beginning of the year for the next year, and I work with my Executive Director to prioritize because everyone thinks their needs are the most important.” Advance planning, adds Adams, can include strategizing to ensure purchases are spread throughout the calendar year rather than bunched up near the close of the fiscal year.
Adams believes cooperative purchasing agreements can be a potential time-saver for public procurement departments. “If they meet the agency’s solicitation requirements, cooperative contracts can provide a means to procure goods, services and construction at a better cost, with better terms than individual procurement actions. Using cooperative purchasing frees procurement staff to focus on more specialized and complex procurement actions that should be done locally.”
Cooperative contracts can be beneficial to very small procurement departments. “They provide cost savings due to economies of scale for many routine items like office and MRO supplies and uniforms. We couldn’t get that kind of pricing with a local solicitation. In addition, the cost of placing bid announcement ads in the local paper is costly, approximately $800-$900 per solicitation, and we may have 5 – 8 a year,” Adams says.
Adams says there are some distinguishing characteristics in cooperative agreements. “I believe the cooperative procurement models that have a public agency issue the solicitation in partnership with the national co-op are better and more efficient. I also prefer those that provide a designated contact with the vendor that is familiar with the cooperative contract. Often, everyone in an organization is not familiar with the cooperative contract and how to implement it.”
Down the road, Adams predicts more public agencies will be relying on co-op deals. “In the future, cooperative purchasing will receive a larger percentage of our agency’s spend. I believe that we will see the number of national co-ops decreasing as they merge and combine with other co-ops, as evidenced by the merger of U.S. Communities and TCPN/National IPA into OMINA Partners. I also imagine vendors with national co-ops partnering with more and more local companies as cooperative purchasing increases to keep up with the demand and provide timely service.”
Those local firms, Adams says, can include small and disadvantaged suppliers. In that scenario, the provider of a national cooperative contract partners and uses local small or disadvantaged suppliers to fulfill their contract obligations. “This type of partnership can be a win/win for the national company and the small local business as well as the public agency.” Adams says her agency has worked with national vendors that use local contractors to complete their maintenance, repair and installation work.
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. Contact: [email protected]