Cooperative agreements and other tools can help lean-staffed procurement squads
In 2021, county budgets are fairly tight, says John D. Tigert, purchasing services manager in Dorchester County, S.C.“Procurement budgets are largely staying the same, with outliers of course, depending on how the organization collects revenue and to what degree that revenue collection was impacted by COVID-19. Most procurement departments tend to run a very lean budget to begin with, so there is not a lot to cut in any case.” Tigert’s team is the county’s central buying authority responsible for the procurement of equipment, supplies and services. Dorchester County’s population in 2019 was 162,809.
Tigert believes government procurement squads are facing bigger workloads nowadays. “Generally, lean-staffed public procurement departments are being tasked with more and more, especially as we continue to try to show the value of procurement within the organization, and our leaders recognize that planning projects appropriately involves procurement having a seat at the table.” Tigert predicts procurement teams’ stature will grow. “It will happen as we become trusted partners rather than barriers or roadblocks; a move in that direction necessarily involves greater responsibility within the organization as well.”
Cooperative purchasing agreements can certainly save time for lean-staffed procurement departments, Tigert tells Co-op Solutions. He cautions, however: “Public procurement officials in partnership with end users must do their due diligence in ensuring that the cooperative agreement represents the best value for their organization for that particular product or service. Cooperative procurement is a fantastic tool but not a cure-all.”
Tigert points to tools like ones featured at CoProcure, which can help buyers and users find, parse through and compare cooperative procurement agreements. “The site can assist with research in this area and make the process more efficient,” Tigert explains. On the subject of tools, Tigert believes that in the future, there will be more effective tools in place to find and compare cooperative contracts. “Organizations like CoProcure will continue to develop better ways to help public procurement organizations find and utilize cooperative contracts.”
Tigert says cooperative agreements can successfully help lean-staffed procurement departments balance their workloads. “I often search for cooperative contracts prior to bidding out goods or services, and particularly when there is a tight timeline involved.”
He adds that a variety of yardsticks may be used to determine the best cooperative agreement for a public procurement department/agency. “To some degree this may be determined by the procurement code or policies of the organization. Of course, pricing may play a role, but other criteria could include favorable contract terms and conditions and the true level of competition evident from the evaluation/selection process.” He urges procurement officers to check with relevant national organizations. “I would refer public procurement officials to the official NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement’s guidance on this topic.” The NIGP has several resources on the topic of cooperative purchasing, including this cooperative purchasing site. The NIGP site has a list of active cooperative purchasing programs.
Fine-tuning procurement technology and systems can also help, Tigert says. “Managers need to ensure that procurement is leveraging their organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and/or electronic procurement systems to their full potential.” Tigert explains: “My experience has been that even when certain systems are available, they are not leveraged to their full capacity to make processes more efficient. For example, this could involve turning on and utilizing a particular module within the ERP system, and training users on how to efficiently use the new module.”
There are several ways that cooperative purchasing contracts can assist local, small or disadvantaged suppliers, Tigert says. “As public procurement officials, we can’t forget our local vendors that often contribute to our organization’s revenue as well. One way we can help to address this concern is to utilize more local cooperative agreements—for example, from the city or county next door—or to a lesser degree, to use more state cooperative agreements as well.”
Public buyers, adds Tigert, can also solicit a quote from a local, small or disadvantaged vendor to compare to the cooperative purchasing agreement to see if it makes sense to competitively bid a particular product or service. Those buyers, he says, can include cooperative language in competitive bids that would enable local, small and disadvantaged suppliers to be eligible as cooperative procurement vendors as well. The key point is whether those suppliers have the excess capacity to accommodate additional demand from other public organizations in the area.
Tigert notes that there are many cooperative procurement agreements with national firms that have strong local dealer-distributor networks. “This ensures that there is still a local vendor who is getting paid for the products and providing customer service. This can be a way to keep public money local as well.”
Down the road, Tigert believes more regional public procurement organizations will be established, similar to the Kansas City Regional Purchasing Cooperative (KCRPC). The KCRPC is managed under the guidance of a steering committee, that is made up of city and county managers and purchasing officials who provide policy guidance, and an advisory committee of public purchasing officials who advise on specific programs and make specific recommendations on bids and contracts. Mid-America Regional Council/KCRPC contracts are available to the 119 cities and nine counties in the Kansas City bi-state region.. The creation of more regional organizations like KCRPC would also help to address the criticism that cooperative procurement agreements may sometimes leave behind local, small and disadvantaged businesses, Tigert tells Co-op Solutions. “By focusing on a regional area, a regional cooperative procurement organization is able to be more inclusive of these local, small and disadvantaged firms.”
In response to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, Tigert’s team has moved decisively. “We have taken steps similar to many other public procurement organizations to limit physical contact and encourage social distancing. For example, conducting bid openings and selection committee meetings virtually, and changing policies on acceptance and routing of electronic vs. physical documents.”
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact: [email protected]