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Angelo Salomone, Alexandru V. Roman
On June 2, 2011, the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) Southeast Florida Chapter held one of its quarterly chapter meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. Over 60 members and guests were present for the morning meeting and presentation, and most stayed for the co-operative purchasing discussion that followed the chapter meeting.
The chapter meetings are crucial for the community of procurement professionals given that:
Outside the details of running the chapter, the meeting had three dominant themes:
The early part of the meeting addressed the implications of public procurement within the broader administrative aspect being overlooked and “brushed off” as unimportant both by state and local governments. The stereotypical thinking is that procurement is nothing more than a clerical effort. Participants argued that such a perception is characteristic not only of administrators who are not directly involved with procurement process, but even by those who deal with procurement specialists on a regular basis. The institute sets among its goals to increase the respect and saliency associated with the profession and to develop partnerships with other longer established professional associations. As one of the chapter members stated, referring to the lack of thorough attention to the complexity of the procurement process: “Wouldn’t you want your boss to understand what you are doing?” Within this context NIGP has amplified its efforts to increase saliency and awareness of the profession at the state level, nationally and even internationally. It was suggested that it is necessary to develop a strong education program both within accreditation programs as well higher education institutions. Specifically, educational efforts in regards to contract administration have been associated with increased salience and respect of the profession.
The second part of the meeting addressed the ethical and accountability concerns within the public procurement practice. Recent public scandals in the region that involved unethical behavior on part of certain public officials (some directly or indirectly linked to procurement) have led to an emphasis on ethics and accountability training for both employees and elected officials. Procurement specialists participated in a presentation/discussion on the topic of ethics and accountability. They discussed the competing interests and demands that they have to satisfy regularly from internal and external customers, including the private sector vendors and service providers. Those with more experience in the field offered insights regarding difficult situations and what strategies “work most of the time.”
The co-operative purchasing meeting that followed provided an interesting example of network collaboratives at their best. Over 50 procurement specialists, who know each other on personal basis, exchanged ideas, talked contracts and strategized “saving money.” Their efforts are not demanded by “the book.” As one of those present stated: “We don’t have to do this. We do this because we like what we do, because we like the people we are working with. We do it because everyone benefits. It makes our work a lot easier and we save time and money around the table. Getting together like this makes a difference.”
Such self driven and dynamic interaction within co-op purchasing efforts represent an area that has yet to be appropriately addressed in public administration literature. Cliff McCue and Eric Prier in “Using agency theory to model cooperative public purchasing” published in 2007 in “Advancing public procurement: Practices, innovation and knowledge –sharing” edited by Gustavo Piga and Khi V. Thai argue that co-op purchasing will probably become a common occurrence and it is crucial to not move ahead without a proper understanding of the decision making dynamics that are involved. The authors argue: “One of the most surprising findings of this study was the realization that there is a chain of agency involved in any public purchase. The existence of these layers of agency might explain why public purchasers often feel pulled in different directions by trying to serve multiple masters. Unlike purchasers found in the private sector, public purchasers face a myriad of divided loyalties based upon the presence of both immediate and extended principals whose goals are often in conflict. Sensing that they have divided loyalties, they feel caught between competing demands for their time and efforts, yet they do not fully understand their predicament nor do they have a solution to this malaise. One should remember that in the private sector, there is one over-riding goal, and that is to maximize profit. However, in the public sphere, no such fundamental objective is clear in every case.”
It appears that public procurement specialists are attacking this “malaise” through professional networks. It is up to academics to insure that they are not undertaking this task “alone.”
Angelo Salomone, CPPB is the NIGP Southeast Florida Chapter president.
ASPA member Alexandru V. Roman is a doctoral student in the School of Public Administration, at Florida Atlantic University. Email: [email protected]