Secrets to local government procurement success

By Hedy Ayers

It should come as no surprise that local governments continue to be challenged to do more with less as they face pressure to cap their tax rates, deal with new, unfunded mandates and rely on limited staff resources.  With government purchasing via cooperative contracts on the rise and expected to continue its growth trajectory, buying construction services through cooperative networks is the logical next step for those agencies seeking to become more efficient.

In a recent webinar, "Procurement Secrets of High-Performing Local Governments," Bill Wolpin revealed that a 2014 Government Procurement survey found that 94% of respondents are using cooperative purchasing tools as part of their procurement strategy. Additionally, 90% of the respondents expect that the use of cooperative contracts will stay the same or increase over the next three years.

The webinar also highlighted the alarming turnover rate in state Chief Procurement Officers (27 states have experienced turnover since 2010) and a concurrent reduction in overall procurement staff.  This combination has undoubtedly led purchasing departments across the nation to seek more effective and efficient means to accomplish their required bidding and contracting work.  

In Connecticut, our own efforts to promote operating efficiencies at the local level have resulted in the successful implementation of an innovative construction procurement system through a longstanding regional purchasing cooperative.  Known as Indefinite Quantity Construction (IQC) or Job Order Contracting, this competitively-bid system for procuring an indefinite quantity of on-call construction and construction-related services has helped our municipalities—large and small alike—streamline their repair and alteration projects.  The solicitations issued covered hundreds of thousands of construction tasks up front, including everything from general construction to specialty areas like mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and flooring.

Thanks to IQC, our towns no longer have to go out bid separately for all of their repair and alteration projects.  Instead, they have immediate access to on-call, competitively bid construction contracts. This means that for projects like a leaking roof, work can commence right away, before conditions worsen. Similarly, for a town or school that needs to replace flooring in a building before it can be occupied, experienced contractors can get to work immediately, and the building can reopen more quickly than if a traditional bidding process was employed.  At the end of the day, because all of the bidding and contracting work has been done up front, local procurement staffs can cross those tasks off their lists and focus on other project priorities. 

Using this procurement method, our members have completed firehouse repairs, generator updates, roof renovations, school alterations, security enhancements, sidewalk repairs, library updates and more, all while saving time and money. In fact, since 2009, 37 of our members have issued Purchase Orders through this program to tackle hundreds of projects, collectively totaling nearly $19 million.  And based on a proven track record of success, the program has experienced significant growth over the last two years alone, as new towns and boards of education have come on-line and previous IQC users have returned again and again to quickly and efficiently complete additional, and often, larger-scale projects with confidence.

For those who have already discovered that cooperative purchasing helps government entities quickly and cost-effectively gain access to the goods and services they need, I encourage them to take the next step and consider procuring construction services through these same cooperative purchasing networks. The IQC process is ideal for those projects that have been relegated to the backburner or require additional technical expertise and will ultimately ease the burden of local governments that are constrained by limited budgets and staff resources.

Hedy Ayers is Special Projects Manager for the Capitol Region Council of Governments in Connecticut. Ayers has more than 18 years of experience working with elected and appointed officials and other community stakeholders to build innovative regional programs.



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