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An Agenda for a Comprehensive Picture of U.S. Cooperative Procurement Practices

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Nathan Myers and Stephen Gordon
November 14, 2022

Public recognition of the legitimacy of government institutions and support for those institutions is important during non-crisis periods, but is particularly important during emergencies. However, such legitimacy requires the perception that government institutions are producing public value. Mark Moore conceptualized the Public Value Theory as a triangular relationship between legitimacy and support from elites and citizens, operational capacity and outputs generating public value. Greater legitimacy and support translates into a higher level of resources which are used to create additional outputs. These outputs produce public value, which can generate higher levels of legitimacy and support.

Our research seeks to build on previous research examining different organizational forms of cooperative purchasing, strategic cooperative procurement efforts to maintain stocks of medical supplies, the application of public value theory to procurement and investigating what factors contribute to success in cooperative purchasing. In a forthcoming Public Administration Review article by Patrucco, Dimand, Neshkova and Cevallos, respondents reported in interviews that collaborative approaches can strategically nurture relationships with private and nonprofit contractors while speeding up the process by including stakeholders earlier in contract development. Cooperative purchasing was also noted as a way to increase efficiency. Though few in the article’s interview sample (less than 10 percent) used that approach, those that did prized it for improving coordination, allowing the organization to tap previously unavailable resources, building social capital while improving conflict management and boosting compliance. They also stressed values like flexibility and sustainability which we also regard as vital to effective cooperative procurement.

Public entities prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic embraced frameworks of cooperative procurement in order to mitigate the types of supply chain shocks experienced by so many organizations. Previously cooperative procurement involved smaller organizations signing on to the procurement contracts of larger organizations during emergencies and then leaving the agreement when the crisis passed (a practice commonly referred to as “piggybacking”). Some professionals in the procurement field are seeking a more resilient form of cooperative procurement in which larger lead agencies and collaborative smaller agencies negotiate shared terms and requirements of a procurement agreement in order to maintain adequate levels of supplies during periods of disruption without severe price changes. Providers would benefit from such an arrangement considering the volume on inventory guaranteed by the agreement, along the parties that will be incentivized to honor the agreement even in periods of great challenges. Existing cooperative procurement frameworks run the gamut between highly professionalized, integrated collaboratives, to more informal arrangements, to those that are in an early stage of development.

This study will examine the degree to which cooperative procurement arrangements are being used strategically to improve public value. An electronic survey instrument will be distributed to a list of public procurement professionals identified by NIGP-The Institute for Public Procurement as actively engaged in or knowledgeable about cooperative procurement. The survey will address issues concerning the creation of the cooperative procurement arrangements and the governance of these cooperatives. The survey will also investigate the types of agencies involved in the cooperatives and the level of activity among the various participants. Follow-up participant interviews may be used for a deeper exploration of some of these issues. 

Forms of cooperative procurement include piggybacking and more resilient “true” cooperative procurement, as well as other forms of cooperation ranging from informally sharing experiences to joining with other local governments to create a consolidated procurement office. Questions related to public value focus on accomplishing the organizational mission, earning greater stakeholder support and receiving additional resources and support. The duration of motivation for the cooperative procurement framework is considered. The survey also asks what types of organizations are involved (local, state, federal, non-profit, private, nonprofit) and the level of procurement automation. 

The goals of the project include using findings to generate research in the field to encourage more buy-in for “true” cooperative procurement approaches and identifying areas of weakness in current cooperative procurement practices that may be hindering perception of public value. Events during the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that we need to move beyond the use of short-term cooperative procurement during emergencies to something more durable. We believe that procurement would benefit from a level of formal governance that facilitates involvement by all stakeholders while still allowing flexibility in the process. This governance approach must build on existing motivations to create incentives for more areas of local and state government to pursue cooperative procurement and encourage the treatment of procurement as a core strategic function in government.

With many questioning the role and legitimacy of government, particularly public health institutions, after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that government organizations reconsider their operational models to avoid future emergencies and make themselves more resilient against those that are unavoidable. Theories like public value can be useful for guiding and structuring such discussions, particularly as we attempt to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complete system. Projects like this endeavor to gain a full picture of the state of areas like public procurement, and findings must be pooled with other broad research projects to identify gaps hindering the production of public value.

Author: Stephen B. Gordon, PhD, FNIGP, CPPO, is a veteran of 45 years in the public procurement arena. A past president of NIGP – the Institute for Public Procurement and a recipient of NIGP’s highest award for individuals, Gordon directed the procurement programs of two well-known and wellrun local governments. He stood up and managed for five years Old Dominion University’s globally accredited Graduate Certificate in Public Procurement and Contract Management.

Author: Nathan Myers, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of the Master of Public Administration at Indiana State University. His areas of research include public policy, public health emergency preparedness, and the governance of biotechnology. He is the author of Pandemics and Polarization: Implications of Partisan Budgeting for Responding to Public Health Emergencies. Myers serves as an academic advisor to the Continuity of Supply Initiative. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @nagremye1980

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