Pareto Award winner: The route to excellence for Sound Transit
On-site evaluation confirms achievements
Pareto accreditation is awarded for five years, and obtaining the award requires rigorous adherence to a three-phase award process. Candidates must complete a self-study and provide responses to 60 questions covering areas of leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, process management, technology and information management, and performance review. The final phase involves an on-site peer review. NIGP consultants Bill Brady and Connie Hinson conducted the on-site review to clarify, verify, interview and examine the procurement function at Sound Transit. The agency scored 96.3 out of 100 points in the on-site evaluation. Only public procurement agencies that have been accredited with NIGP’s outstanding Agency Accreditation Achievement Award (OA4) are eligible for the Pareto Award. Sound Transit’s achievements in each area include:
Leadership. Employees are encouraged to be innovative at all levels of the organization. Dialogue is a priority, and a yearly retreat is held to focus on strategic plans and outcomes. Communication strategies include an extensive Internet and intranet containing relevant information about procurement and contracts. P-card sleeves were created that list spending limits and limitations on how the cards can be used. The Division also supplies mouse pads with information on dollar thresholds to internal customers.
Strategic planning. Procurement participates in projects up front — well in advance of requisitions being received. All employees understand short- and long-term goals, with a focus on three-year and five-year plans. A scorecard measures performance, and Contracts Activity Reports (CARS) and procurement management reports are distributed to clients and management monthly.
Customer focus. Procurement works closely with clients to carry out the goals and focus of the authority. The procurement staff understands what they are procuring, and is involved in the planning stages so they can schedule critical milestones. Sound Transit (ST) Connect quarterly outreach events bring agency procurement staff and vendors/contractors together for a networking session and provide a Best Practices overview from procurement staff.
Process management. The main improvements suggested by the on-site review consultants surrounded the p-card program. “While the p-card program … has excellent procedures in place, they are not using it to obtain maximum value,” said the evaluation panel. Auditing concerns about misuse are limiting the program’s ability to generate revenue, according to the panel. Also, although just-in-time contracts are being used, there should be more integration of the approach into p-card processes. The panel also noted a low level of delegated authority to client departments, particularly p-card limits. The authority is currently considering raising limits (currently $3,000 per transaction) and increasing use of p-cards as a payment method in lieu of checks issued by accounts payable.
Technology and information management. The procurement and contracts department has good data collection initiatives. Weekly training ensures sufficient knowledge of technology tools. The authority’s intranet makes information available to client departments and suppliers. Bids and proposals are advertised and can be downloaded. Data enables evaluation of the status of contracts and procurements, scorecard and cycle time. Technology is also integrated into the benchmarking process.
Performance improvement. A business efficiency team created a focus on improving the procurement and contracts department several years ago. There is an emphasis on certification and hiring the best candidates to embrace the mission, vision and goals of Sound Transit. The CEO personally recognizes employees in their performance appraisal with a note. To encourage existing procurement professionals to obtain CPPB and/or CPPO certifications, Sound Transit offered cash bonuses to employees who got certified, totaling 3 to 5 percent of their pay. To provide qualified procurement professionals to work on more complex contracts, the department upgraded contract assistant positions to contract specialist or senior contract specialist as vacancies occurred. The authority encourages employees to be involved at every level and to bring ideas to management. Morale is high, and innovation is encouraged.
‘Just go for it’
Documenting existing procedures is central to achieving the Pareto Award, and earning the award for some procurement operations may be just a matter of documenting procedures already in place, said Alexander. The biggest obstacle is the initial motivation required to commit to taking the time to apply for the award. “The Pareto demonstrates our value and competence to the agency, increased our teamwork and morale in the division, and validates what we do on a daily basis,” said Alexander.
Alexander urges other procurement operations to “just go for it” and pursue the Pareto Award despite the day-to-day demand on time and energies. “Engage every member of your team in some way,” she said. “With the strength of great team efforts, where everyone pitches in and helps with writing responses to questions, the impossible becomes possible. It’s a matter of taking the time to demonstrate and document exceptional procurement practices that are already in place.” Alexander acknowledged a core team of Linda Winter, Tina Davis and Rosalind Knox, who were instrumental in keeping the Sound Transit department on track to meet deadlines, compile responses, etc.
Larry Anderson is editor of Government Procurement.