Achieving community goals with effective public purchasing.
All levels of government are facing the challenge of achieving community goals with ever more limited resources This call to do more with less reaches all levels of government--federal, state and particularly at the local level where budgets are being outpaced by rising demands for services.
One often untapped resource in meeting these demands is the power of procurement. In the past decade, several jurisdictions have used this previously untapped "power of the purse" to directly meet public needs.
The use of contracting, or the "power of the purse," to achieve service needs is as old as government itself. The ability to fairly and effectively use this power to further community goals has reached new heights through the professionalism of procurement employees This professionalism has facilitated the strategic use of purchasing methods and practices to achieve public goals. Although not a cure to every community need, new procurement approaches have enabled local governments to support revitalization efforts, provide opportunities for cost effective environmental efforts, and improve both the quality of existing public services and the ability to provide new services through the development of true strategic partnerships with vendors.
Procurement operations need not be paper bound groups of bureaucrats focused on process and procedure. While the legitimacy, transparency and fairness remain the primary goal of the government procurement, professional times have changed; they can contribute significantly to the attainment of community goals. Through automation, which has reduced the burden of document processing, and through the realization of the strategic importance of the government spend, which has permitted the involvement of procurement in strategic program development, procurement professionals throughout the country have been able to develop the capacity to both insure the fairness of the processes and contribute significantly to the accomplishment of community goals.
In Illinois, communities have implemented programs that have reduced the impact of energy cost increases on both government and rate payers, facilitated the accelerated completion of major infrastructure projects, improved the condition of downtown areas, increased the involvement of local businesses and citizens in the process, and worked across jurisdictional lines to implement emergency communications systems. This has occurred all through the thoughtful implementation of innovative procurement approaches. All of these programs have improved services and, at the same time, reduced costs. These techniques and solutions are now in use throughout the country.
In other communities, through the use of creative payment tools such as procurement cards, cities have been able to not only save time and precious human resources, they have literally been able to fund and construct buildings through rebates. These buildings could not have been funded otherwise. In other communities, procurement programs have enabled residents to invest in the development of wind energy. These innovative programs are only a few examples of the best practices in place throughout the country.
It must be understood that the effective use of procurement to achieve public goals can be challenging. It requires a clear understanding of both the potential and the limitations of procurement. It requires more complex forms of public communication and contracting. It requires that a number of key factors all be in place, such as acquiring political leadership and statutory authority that's clear and decisive. All stakeholders must understand how to best develop and articulate goals and manage contracts in light of those goals Leadership must also fully understand the needs and limitations of their contracting processes. Finally, in all such programs, there must be a detailed plan (i.e. a contract) that includes performance metrics.
The good news is that the procurement profession has developed the capacity and strategic vision to assist its leadership in achieving community goals through implementing new and innovative contracts. The use of this expertise to create not just contracts, but vendor partnerships, has allowed communities to clearly show that when properly constructed and monitored throughout their life, innovative contracting methods can be of substantial benefit to the citizens of a community. Understanding how other communities have successfully achieved their goals, learning from both their mistakes and successes, and applying best practices to your individual needs will enable you to truly meet the public's demand to do more with less and create a better community for everyone.
Details: Bevis will lead Leadership Training Institute seminar L06, entitled "Achieving Community Goals with Effective Public Purchasing," on Tuesday, November 13 from 9 a.m. to noon. For more information or to register for Leadership Training Institute seminars, visit the NLC homepage at www.nlc.org.
Michael Bevis serves as the chief procurement officer for the City of Naperville, Ill., and sits on the board of directors of the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing.