A Culture Shift for Government Shoppers

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Public Procurement Month: Public Procurement Month is a Just Recognition

NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement proclaims, “Procurement It’s Everywhere.” That is true because governmental procurement affects citizens everyday-across the entire United States. Whether driving, flying, attending school or university, visiting a library, playing in a park, riding a bus, obtaining a building permit or calling for a fire truck, public procurement officers make it possible. From the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, from the Canadian to the Mexican borders, procurement officers procure goods and services for departments delivering governmental services to meet citizen needs by using their professional knowledge, skills, innovation and hard work.

American governments expend $6.3 trillion per year delivering services to citizens. Because public procurement spends over 30 percent of our Gross Domestic Product, professional and effective procurement is critical. Procurement is well past the old-fashioned order clerical model in which the buyer simply places orders. Present day procurement is a strategic partner used to further resources and obtain quality goods and services.

Procurement can have strategic value by creating opportunities for planning, obtaining best value, reducing costs and maintaining integrity in the use of public funds. Strategic sourcing significantly lowers costs and the savings puts more equipment in parks, more teachers in classrooms, re-paves more roads, provides more firemen, allows for more buses, improved trash collection services and helps to reduce financial burdens on taxpayers. Procurement strategy should be aligned with the values, mission, vision and goals of the organization. This requires a highly educated and professional procurement staff stationed high enough in the organization to have ready access to the organization’s top leaders.

Public sector procurement plays a critical role in a democracy by ensuring its internal customers can effectively achieve the department’s missions, while serving as stewards of the public whose tax dollars bring to life the political will of its governing body. Public procurement officers also service the needs of another critical client: vendors. Vendors are critical to a government’s success. Vendors are partners in delivering quality goods and services for citizens.

Procurement excellence indicates a well-run government because the way a government conducts its procurement is a reflection of the government’s overall quality. Professional public procurement promotes honesty, exposes and removes corruption, favoritism, fraud and waste by conducting the process in an open manner consistent with the rules, regulations and good business sense. It also ensures every qualified business has an equal opportunity to win government contracts.

When handled professionally, public procurement benefits citizens by supplying goods and services at the lowest cost possible (consistent with procurement standards) to maximize tax dollars. It is equally important that the process be fair, open and accountable. With every bid award, there is one happy vendor (the winner) and one or more unhappy vendors (those that lost). Yet most vendors are satisfied even if they lose the bid, provided the procurement was open, fair, properly evaluated and truly beneficial to the citizenry. When these attributes are not present in procurement, citizen cynicism and distrust grow. Government’s reputation suffers.

The pressures and demands on public procurement officers are huge and conflicting. Everyone has an opinion on how best to conduct procurement. Few understand the complexities and competing goals that affect procurement. Public procurement officers are seldom recognized publicly. Often we are paired with the derisive phrase “bureaucrats” and associated with lazy, wasteful governmental workers. Our names are not on the newspaper’s front page (unless we have been unprofessional). Commissions, Councils, Boards, Legislatures do not generally hold special recognition ceremonies for public procurement officers. Few people dream about becoming a public procurement official. Yet some of us dedicate our careers to serving our fellow citizens by being procurement professionals. We have a sense of duty to our fellow citizens to try to make sure that the business of government is conducted properly.

NIGP rightly notes that while public sector leaders may have been slower than the private sector to realize the strategic value of procurement, communities demand public leaders be strategic in using the resources they have to meet citizen needs. Leading organizations, private and public, no longer settle for a clerical procurement function but instead they incorporate procurement in the organization’s strategic mindset, equip procurement professionals and set expectations high for conduct and performance in order to best serve their clients and citizens.

Governor Haslam acknowledged professional public procurement’s importance by declaring March “Public Procurement Month” in Tennessee. Every city, county, K12 district, public university, housing or building authority, utility district, airport and every other government in Tennessee relies on public procurement officers to meet the needs of its citizens. Public procurement officers help improve governmental operations and thereby improve life for their citizens every day. That is indeed public service at its finest. Public procurement officers perform a vital role in furthering good democracy and are worthy of recognition.

Terry McKee, is the 2017 President of the East Tennessee Purchasing Association (ETPA) and Procurement Director at Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation.