Public purchasing professional Steve Gordon knows a thing or two about procurement. He has 35 years of experience in public purchasing and contracting, taught graduate-level courses in management, and developed and taught graduate-level courses in public administration and public procurement and contract management.

Gordon has served as Director of Purchasing in the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Tenn.), as well as Director of Procurement in Alexandria, Va. He’s a past national president and board member of NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement.

Gordon is leaving his position as the program manager for Old Dominion University's globally-accredited Graduate Certificate in Public Procurement and Contract Management, which he set up in 2011, at the end of the 2016 spring semester. He will move to another university to establish a similar program.

We sat down with Gordon to discuss his views on training, cooperative buys and other procurement topics.

GPN: Is there a need for more training on coops and cooperative purchasing in the public procurement field?

Steve Gordon: I don’t think [training is] the most important element … the focus needs to be more on creating awareness of the pros and cons of cooperative purchasing, and when it is and when it is not an appropriate strategy.

Purchasers also need to be provided with the tools or at least the frameworks that can help them decide when a cooperative procurement is an appropriate strategy in a specific situation.

GPN: Do cooperative programs address environmental products and sustainability issues in 2016?

SG: Public purchasers need to understand that no matter how laudable wanting to advance sustainable procurement is…. They must ensure that the potential sustainable solution is exactly what is needed in their jurisdiction.

In addition, more stakeholders need to be involved in the decisions on whether to engage in sustainable procurement, and then in how to best advance those goals. Thankfully, we are seeing more and more stakeholders taking part in the dialogue about public procurement. The buying process has to be a fit within the overall strategic framework of the government, and not just a small island out there doing its own thing.

GPN: Will environmental and sustainability requirements lead to changes in cooperative purchasing programs and the way public purchasers buy?

SG: Today, if you look at the sustainable contracts that the coop programs offer, they are primarily product-focused. Although it’s not going to be an easy process, I predict that over time … that the cooperatives are going to figure out a way to deal with at least a couple of challenges that I see. One is the whole informal Buy-Local issue. Another challenge is the requirement that governments buy products that are produced in state.

GPN: What kinds of products and services will be covered in future environmental and sustainability initiatives? Is there anything on the horizon you can mention?

SG: From my experience in public procurement, governments have much greater needs than just buying green stuff. They have these complex requirements, and hopefully it will come to pass that customers and the would-be customers will go to coops and tell them “We have higher levels of needs than what you are giving us right now.”

One example is all the paving we do. What are roads paved with? It’s asphalt, which is impervious, and that’s made of chemicals that may not be beneficial to the environment. When it rains, the water creates stormwater issues. In addition, the application process has challenges. It is energy-intensive to make and apply the product, and the process may drive climate change. In addition, the cost of paving and re-paving over time is significant.

It would be great if through the cooperative buying process, we came up with a new, economical way to pave roads without negative environmental impacts in the manufacturing and application process.

GPN: Are there any other products or services that you think will be in coops’ government offerings in the future?

SG: Let’s consider roofing services, other construction and repair services, or landscaping and garbage pickup. The smarter coops will figure out a way for anybody anywhere to use their service contracts, and still successfully meet Buy-Local requirements. The service contracts from the coops will still gain all the efficiencies and price economies that are achievable through cooperative purchasing vehicles. The jurisdictions, meanwhile, will meet their strategic goals and avoid risk in the agreements.

GPN: What effect is technology having on cooperative purchasing?

SG: You have to look at the effect of technology in at least two different ways. Technology, for instance, can enhance and expand the ability of coop programs to promote their contracts. That technology, in turn, can better enable governments to find out that the contracts are available.

Technology can also help local governments and state agencies better analyze cooperative programs. Those governments—all potential customers—can use the technology to do a best possible analysis to determine whether that specific cooperative offering is a good solution or not for their agencies.

Another way–and I don’t think this approach is being fully utilized–is for coop programs to better execute all of their contracts, including sustainable contracts, through the use of commercially available communications technology.

When I was on staff at NIGP 35 to 40 years ago, we would fly officials in for meetings to develop specifications and other tasks. With today’s videoconference capabilities, governments and coop organizations can electronically connect key personnel so they can virtually participate in important meetings. A lot of the technology that can really advance cooperative procurement, including sustainable cooperative procurement, is commercially available, off-the-shelf technology.

Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.

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