State and local governments often grapple with a slow and arduous process to simply get the goods and services they need. The pandemic has exacerbated that challenge.
Lengthy bidding and competitive proposal processes that had been the norm were suddenly an even bigger liability at a time when crucial supplies were in high demand and supply constrained. A year into the pandemic, many governing bodies still face pressing needs for everything from cleaning products and PPE to software and technology upgrades.
Thanks to the CARES Act, ESSER I and II, and the American Rescue Plan, many states, cities, counties and schools have gained access to relief funds. However, allocating and deploying them effectively and efficiently can be onerous. That’s where suppliers can be a valuable resource.
Assessing State & Local Government and Education Needs
More than a year into the pandemic, schools, municipalities, counties, municipal utility districts and other governmental entities are still struggling to reopen safely and sustain operations. This entails addressing concerns about social distancing, learning loss, computing, IT systems, cybersecurity, cleaning and disinfecting, touchless dispensers, indoor air quality and restocking business essentials.
“State and local governing bodies are dealing with how to mitigate issues related to dealing with COVID, whether that means investing in cleaning, sanitization and air filtration or with reconfiguring the work environment for social distancing,” says Jeremy Landis, Area VP of Government & Education at Staples, who works with state and federal government agencies and schools on procurement needs. “We’ve had customers say everything from, ‘I need to swap out my electric hand dryers and add touchless towel dispensers,’ to ‘I need room-based HEPA filtration in every classroom.’”
Staples Business Advantage offers facilities site surveys to help government agencies with their needs. “Whether it’s multiple buildings in a school district or a town hall building, we look at everything from identifying preventative cleaning opportunities like ensuring there is enough matting square footage at building entrances, to labor savings with chemical consolidating and appropriate soap and towel dispenser sizing based on traffic, to health and safety measures like air filtration and touchless dispensers.”
The Role of Cooperative Purchasing
The right partner can also bring greater efficiency and flexibility to the procurement process. For example, public entities funded by taxpayer dollars are governed in how they are able to procure a good or service and are typically required to put any purchase over a certain dollar threshold through an open solicitation process, typically by getting competing bids or proposals from potential suppliers. However, the process of cooperative purchasing allows government bodies to make purchases using contracts procured by another governmental entity—essentially to piggyback onto another government agency’s bidding process.
By using cooperative purchasing, or joint procurement, government entities benefit from the price that was negotiated without having to go through the time-consuming and costly process of collecting bids or RFPs. This allows them to immediately realize the cost savings and benefits built into the already awarded supplier relationship.
Schools, municipalities, counties, municipal utility districts and other governmental entities that access this type of joint procurement can also streamline procurement by purchasing from industry partners who hold these already solicited and awarded contracts. “Going through the traditional process of advertising a bid for a specified number of weeks and reviewing the bids to find a solution can take weeks if not months,” explains Landis. He notes that Staples participates in both bidding procurement processes and cooperative purchasing with its government customers.
“It’s entirely up to the customer,” Landis says. “Depending on the nature of the purchase and the timeline, cooperative purchasing can make more sense. Often, when we talk with government customers, they ask, ‘What contracts do you have?’ We’ll go through our portfolio of cooperative contracts to allow them to decide whether to access supplies using a cooperative versus soliciting RFPs.”
The Value of a Trusted Procurement Partner
Working with multiple suppliers or suppliers in specific categories with large minimum order volumes is another challenge for state and local governments, particularly smaller entities. While cooperative purchasing enables procurement officers to aggregate demand to meet minimums, working with suppliers that offer a broad range of products from a wide variety of manufacturers can be advantageous.
For example, consolidating orders for multiple categories of goods and services—from office furniture, technology and supplies to cleaning materials and signage—eases vendor management and invoice processing. It also gives purchasing entities access to a wider array of brands and more stringent quality control practices.
“When you’re buying furniture from Staples, you basically have access to a project manager in the form of your Staples furniture account executive, who can help guide you through the 400 manufacturing lines we carry,” explains Landis. “Plus, we curate our own product assortment available on StaplesAdvantage.com and ensure the quality of everything we sell.”
For government entities, finding ways to ease a procurement process that has grown complex and time consuming can be game-changing in today’s high-stakes COVID-recovery environment and beyond. Establishing a relationship with a trusted partner can help provide timely access to quality supplies during this critical time—and in the future.