Onvia’s just-released second-annual Survey of Government Procurement Professionals shows nearly 40 percent of public sector buyers report being overworked. And that percentage of overworked buyers is 4 percent higher than what was reported in last year’s survey. Buyers in the survey report struggling to find the time to perform the research needed to author well-written bids and RFPs. Go here for survey details. 

Respondents to the 2017 survey as well as last year’s survey say they are increasingly using more efficient buying methods to make up for lean staffs. The respondents are relying on cooperative contracts from national co-ops to obtain needed goods and services.  

Other efficient buying methods that a high percentage of survey respondents reported using include:

--Regional or local cooperatives,

--GSA Schedules that state or local governments can use,

--Government purchase cards (i.e. “P Card”) method to make micro purchases,

--Statewide fixed-term contracts (managed by a state agency) for multiple purchases that local agencies can use, and 

--Piggy-back contracts (not statewide) where agencies in a state buy from an existing contract issued by another agency.

A total of 668 procurement staff members in states, cities, counties, special districts and school districts nationwide responded to the survey. Onvia is a government market researcher and data provider to firms serving the business-to-government market.

Yes, cooperative purchasing can help conserve time for lean-staffed public procurement departments. A 2014 survey of public procurement officials showed that cooperative purchasing brings several benefits to a community. About 92 percent of survey respondents said it saved them time, while 77 percent of respondents reported that it saved money. Government Procurement and its partner, NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement conducted the 2014 survey. The questionnaire was emailed to Government Procurement subscribers.

It’s no surprise, then, that Maija Lampinen, Procurement and Contracts Administrator for the Port of Everett, Wash., relies on cooperative agreements. “Co-ops makes a lot of sense for small to mid-size, lean-staffed agencies. I am a staff of one and wear several hats,” Lampinen tells GPN. Cooperative purchasing deals, Lampinen says, provide her with a method to establish contracts for a variety of purchases with minimal effort. The cooperative pacts her agency uses allow her to focus on the solicitations that are specific to the Port of Everett. “We are small enough that we do not buy high volume of any commodity; therefore, our buying power is greatly reduced over that of a larger agency,” Lampinen says.

Lampinen says the benefits of using co-ops outweigh any negative factors. “While the price may be equal to or slightly better than that we could have received if we had conducted our own solicitation, the cost/time benefit of tying up my time on purchasing tires (which we may purchase 10 or 20 each year) is great because it frees me up to focus on higher priority procurements or other priority projects.”

An agency’s size and workload can be a factor, Lampinen adds. “For smaller agencies, sometimes the convenience and quickness of a co-op contract outweighs the ‘better price’ you could get by bidding.” Lampinen says she often hears comments from larger agency managers who say that co-op purchasing may not yield the best price for government entities. “That may be true in some cases, but when you handle all procurements for an agency, sometimes the ability to provide your staff with what they want on a contract quickly can be a useful tool to maintain your sanity,” Lampinen explains. She adds that for smaller agencies, the economies of scale [available through cooperative agreements] become more evident.

The Port of Everett relies on co-op agreements for a variety of commodities. Lampinen says her entity buys a lot of off-the-shelf goods and technology via cooperative contracts. The agency has also successfully used cooperatives to acquire services such as laundry/cleaning (uniform and mat) and roof maintenance and replacement.

On the public works front, Lampinen’s agency relies on a contract for Job Order Contracting (JOC, construction) that two agencies have successfully bid off of. Lampinen notes that there is a specific authorization in state statute that allows the agency to use JOC in cooperative purchasing. “I can’t think of anything that we haven’t successfully done using cooperative purchasing,” Lampinen concludes.

Lampinen was a pioneer in using cooperative agreements when she was a procurement officer at the Snohomish (Wash.) School District. “Public purchasing through national cooperatives such as U.S. Communities was not broadly accepted during that time, and I worked with our legal counsel to develop documentation that would allow the district to utilize the Office Depot cooperative contract,” Lampinen says. She explains that several other Washington school districts eventually used the model her district created which opened the floodgates so those districts could use cooperatives.

“We are continually looking for contracts on cooperatives that will save us money on our day-to-day purchases that do not require competition,” Lampinen explains. “If we need new radios for our security folks, they do not cost enough to meet our competitive threshold. However, one of our local suppliers has a cooperative contract with the city of Seattle, and we utilize that to ensure that we are getting the best price for the radios.”

Lampinen expects the number of co-op buys at the port to remain the same in the second half of 2017 as well as 2018. The reason: the port has been going through budget cuts covering the rest of 2017 as well as 2018. 

Michael Keating is senior editor for American City & County and the GPN web site. Contact: michael.keating@penton.com 

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