Procurement can help shape public policy and help small, disadvantaged businesses thrive
Celeste Frye, co-founder and CEO of New York City-based Public Works Partners, a consulting and planning firm, speaks highly of public procurement departments across the U.S. “In our work with large city procurement offices, we see that these entities are working to make procurement faster and fairer.” Frye knows of what she speaks: she has more than 15 years of experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, including three-plus years as executive director of the New York City Department of Small Business Services.
Frye also sees the dynamic and forceful role that procurement has in the governing process: “While the procurement office is not always highly visible, the work it produces is. Procurement directors should publicize the powerful impact that procurement can have on government, the provision of services, and the diversity of those who work in and for government.”
“Working in procurement is a way for individuals with a desire to effect change to break into government policy-making,” she adds. “Procurement directors would do well to make the connection (for all stakeholders) between procurement and policy initiatives.”
Public purchasers can sometimes use cooperative contracts to introduce business startups and disadvantaged businesses to the public sector, Frye says. “Cooperative purchasing agreements can be great tools for ensuring that local, small or disadvantaged suppliers can take part in large government contracting opportunities. These contracts often provide the leverage, stability, and relationships for these companies to gain the foothold they need to take their next steps.”
Frye says legislators, city administrators, experienced contractors and others can help pave the way for small, non-traditional vendors to get started in selling to government via cooperative contracts. “This can be achieved by including provisions for these groups in the original purchasing language. Governments can also encourage large suppliers to subcontract portions of their work to small, local, and disadvantaged suppliers.”
Frye affirms that cooperative purchasing agreements can be used to facilitate participation by local, small or disadvantaged suppliers. She cites New York’s Master Service Agreements (MSAs) as an example that gives a boost to these startups: “Public agencies use the MSAs to procure equipment and supplies. Like other city contracts, these MSAs are subject to minority/women-owned business enterprise (M/WBE) requirements, which can present great opportunities for small, minority and women-owned companies to help fulfill orders and services.”
Yes, cooperative contracts can help deliver lower unit costs to governments, Frye explains: “Through cooperative purchasing agreements, multiple public agencies, or even multiple city or county governments, can benefit from aggregated purchasing power at reduced prices.” She adds that agencies should be able to save staff time by having a single procurement group manage the cooperative bid process.
For governments, purchasing via a cooperative contract may be more efficient than relying on a conventional bid setup, Frye says. “Rather than having a system where eligible firms have to submit proposals detailing the provision of similar services multiple times, which results in more work for both the proposers and the procurement departments managing the proposal processes, cooperative procurements allow for a more streamlined, efficient process. This reduces the amount of time procurement offices spend releasing and reviewing bids.”
And with COVID-19 flare-ups occurring daily, lean-staffed government procurement departments will be facing bigger workloads, Frye predicts. “Streams of government revenue were limited because of the pandemic. Cities and counties were cutting spending across the board and focusing on essential services, which meant that procurement offices had a lower workload. However, the workload will probably ramp back up as funding from the American Rescue Plan Actand the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reaches local coffers. As procurement needs increase, it is likely that governments will start hiring more procurement professionals.”
To meet growing workloads in 2022 and beyond, Frye urges government procurement managers to cast a wide net to recruit experienced staffers, beginners and interns. “Stop looking for direct procurement experience; look for people with related skills. By opening up the applicant pool to a wider range of backgrounds, this will promote a more diverse workforce, both in terms of experience and background.”
Public procurement departments can be more vendor-friendly through effective document management, Frye believes. “Many procurement processes, especially across government, ask for the same documents and forms. Procurement offices can create a system-wide repository that streamlines document and form submission by keeping each applicant’s materials on file. This would allow proposers to spend more time focusing on the content of their development, rather than tracking down forms.”
Public Works Partners is certified as women-owned, disadvantaged and small business enterprise (WBE/DBE/SBE). The firm helps organizations do their work better. The company works with urban planners, nonprofits, city agencies, foundations, as well as real estate developers and prime contractors. Among its core services, the company provides performance management training sessions, develops and facilitates leadership forums and strengthens financial management. Its project management process drives every project the firm completes and helps clients identify their unique needs to provide creative solutions.
Public Works Partners’ customer journey map offers a framework that outlines the stages of each customer’s lifecycle. It helps organizations improve their customers’ experience. It helps organizations understand how their customers are interacting with them, and has tips on where organizations need to invest to improve customer interactions in the future.
Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County. Contact him at [email protected]