Local level governments take various approaches to procurement. Many use a traditional centralized purchasing system, while others have deregulated public procurement and allow departments more control over their purchasing decisions. Sullivan County, New York isn’t the only government adopting a hybrid system that combines the benefits of both centralized and decentralized processes.
Centralized Contract Procurement Procedures
The primary goals of Sullivan County’s new streamlined procurement procedure is control, not just over costs, but over who purchases what items. Under the earlier system, some county departments were paying more than other departments for the same product. “We are looking for finding substantial savings across the board, whether it’s pharmaceuticals in the jail or in the adult care center,” said Legislator Cora Edwards.
The Purchasing Department will keep a database for all county vendors and contracts. According to Legislator Cindy Kurpil Gieger, “There will be recommendations on the contract itself, formulation of the contract itself, and then there will be a procurement and a bidding process.”
Is Centralized Public Procurement the Best Solution?
Implementing the new system requires more county employees, but legislators believe the cost savings will more than cover the added labor expense. In Maricopa County, Arizona, each city government writes their own procurement policies. Phoenix often comes under fire for its decentralized system because the process lacks the consistency and uniformity seen in other cities with a centralized procurement department.
Phoenix attorney Kevin O’Malley has represented companies in the area with complaints about the inconsistent procedures the city uses. “If you rely on each department to come up with their own [process] each time, it just seems kind of inherent that you’re going to have a hard time maintaining a quality process,” he said.
The number of complaints filed against the Phoenix procurement system is unknown, but the nearby cities of Tempe and Mesa only respond to a small number of grievances each year. Both cities handle procurement contracts through a centralized, uniform process. In most cases, uniform policies with a centralized location for contract management improves cost control as well as transparency in public procurement. Effective communication and cross-agency involvement result in better value across the board.