Public Procurement officers celebrated

This is a reprint of the Opinion Column published in the Knoxville News Sentinel on March 12, 2016, written by ETPA President Terry McKee.

Opinion Columnists|Terry McKee

Public procurement officers celebrated

March 12, 2016
March 12, 2016

The work of procurement officers usually goes unnoticed by the public they serve. But in the spirit of recognizing the efforts behind everything from checking out a library book to driving on a public road, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has proclaimed March as "Public Procurement Month."

Government procurement has a significant impact on our infrastructure, including the presence of airports, housing, roads, parks, schools, hospitals, utilities, law enforcement, defense and environmental protection. The process affects everyone every single day.

Whether driving to work, flying to another city, attending a public school or university, receiving protection from peace officers, reading at a library, visiting a park or calling for a fire truck, a government officer arranged the situation by procuring goods or services to meet your needs.

Public procurement refers to government purchasing of the goods and services needed to operate, from office supplies to high-tech equipment. Public procurement seeks to ensure that the purchase of goods and services provides the needed value and purpose for the money spent.

In the private sector, procurement is a strategic function that improves an organization's profitability and benefits stockholders. In the public sector, there are no stockholders, but taxpayers expect government procurement to maximize the output of services. Taxpayers also expect this process to be done in an impartial, transparent and accountable manner.

Procurement in the public sector plays a critical role in the execution of a democracy, according to NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurement. Procurement focuses on support of its internal customers to ensure they effectively achieve the agency's missions, while serving as stewards of the public whose tax dollars bring to life the political will of its representing governing body.

When handled professionally, public procurement benefits a government and its citizens by supplying goods and services at the lowest cost possible to maximize the expenditure of tax dollars. It is equally important that the process be fair, open and accountable.

Public procurement in the United States accounts for more than 30 percent of our gross domestic product, so the importance of having professional and effective purchasing systems is unquestionable. Government agencies and departments expend $6.3 trillion per year.

With ever-increasing demand for services and generally static tax bases across the country, public procurement plays an important role in maximizing allocated tax dollars. Public procurement also can help keep taxes lower by reducing the need for additional revenues to the highest extent possible.

Good procurement dramatically increases public confidence in government. NIGP has established the values and guiding principles of public procurement to which all governments should ascribe — accountability, ethics, impartiality, professionalism, service and transparency.

Professional public procurement promotes honesty and exposes and removes corruption, favoritism, fraud and waste by conducting the process in an open manner consistent with the rules and good business sense. It also ensures every qualified business has an equal opportunity to win government contracts.

I applaud Haslam for acknowledging the importance of professional public procurement. During the month of March, community leaders across Tennessee and the United States are recognizing the profession at all government levels. It truly affects all of us and, when conducted properly, adds great value to governance.

Terry McKee is president of the East Tennessee Purchasing Association and procurement director at Knoxville's Community Development Corporation.