University procurement department defends campus against COVID-19 pandemic
Administrators at the University of South Carolina (UofSC) have had success keeping the campus safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Stacy Gregg, procurement manager. “The university has done very well as it planned for the return of our students this fall.” She adds that institution-wide teamwork has played a role. “Our success is truly the result of the collaboration of many different areas, including our President, Provost, Housing, Finance, Facilities Maintenance and many others.”
Gregg is thankful that the UofSC Purchasing Department was included in the university’s overall planning from the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. “We were given the ability to be contributors to the solution. It has made all the difference; now the campus has most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) that we need to sustain the safety of our students, staff and faculty. What I’ve learned from this is that procurement professionals can do our best work when we are invited to what I call the ‘planning parties.’”
Gregg has learned that the procurement function has been essential to keeping the university going during the pandemic. From the beginning of the pandemic, the purchasing team worked to establish multiple supply sources for PPE. Before faculty and staff returned to the UofSC campus this fall, a box of personal protection supplies was placed in a secure area within each university department. Each box included : hand sanitizer, wipes, disinfectant spray, nitrile gloves and disposable masks.
The boxes also contained: (1) procedures for reordering supplies and (2) costs charged for the items. The university provided an online form for subsequent orders that users upload to the university purchasing department’s webpage. There is a dedicated email inbox for these special orders; the inbox is monitored throughout each workday.
The university’s purchasing department has also provided washable and reusable face coverings for faculty and staff. University managers can choose to equip their facilities with wellness screens. The department hosts several online catalogs that cover floor and desktop wellness screens that are standardized for quick selection. The catalogs include product spec sheets, descriptions and dealer information.
Gregg says cooperative purchasing contracts have been invaluable for procurement officers and their entities during the COVID-19 period. “The market has been incredibly volatile. For many of us, cooperative agreements have meant that we could purchase supplies immediately at the best prices available on the market at that time. If we didn’t have these agreements in place, we would have been subject to price gouging because we didn’t get the competition or lost opportunities to acquire supplies because we delayed the process to get competition.”
Gregg says cooperative purchasing agreements can help reduce administrative overhead and costs for governments. “The ability to use cooperative purchasing contracts can reduce the timing of our procurements from months to days or hours. In exchange, we receive very competitive pricing and we can spend our energies focusing on other end-user needs.”
Training procurement professionals is a priority for Gregg. Due to limited training budgets at the university, she offers a monthly session within the department on various procurement topics where there might be a knowledge deficit. She is currently acquainting staffers to the value of resource-sharing among procurement pros and the challenges she’s seen in the procurement space.
Gregg recently delivered a presentation at NIGP Forum 2020. The topic: “From Hurdle to Hero: Stop Being the Roadblock.” Gregg says she’s had a great response from the session. “The takeaway from that presentation is that it isn’t our job to say ‘No.’ It is our job to create solutions within the parameters of the laws, regulations, and policies of our entities. When we do that we also create a tremendous amount of value for our internal and external stakeholders.”
As a 20-year volunteer and past president (and holder of other offices) at the South Carolina Association of Governmental Purchasing Officials (SCAGPO), Gregg urges procurement practitioners to participate in their local NIGP chapters and other professional groups. “It is important for professionals to get involved with their local NIGP chapter.
“I call the local chapters a training ground for national volunteerism. We learn so much at the chapter level. More than anything, that is where we begin to make those great connections that allow us to use one another as resources. Years ago my mentor, Joe Tommie, shared with me that some of his closest friendships were born out of SCAGPO. I didn’t really understand; but today, I can say that some of my closest friendships came through SCAGPO as well as NIGP.” Gregg is an NIGP instructor, NIGP Certified Procurement Professional (NIGP-CPP), and is a member of Global Women Procurement Professionals.
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact: [email protected]