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Helping Governments Buy Better

By Ashleigh Fryer and Kevin Parker

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown

Every year, the federal government spends approximately $600 billion through procurement — the process by which governments buy goods and services. The system is heavily regulated to ensure that the contracts through which these billions of dollars flow to vendors are administered fairly, both in terms of who gets contracts and how they are treated, and in terms of quality results for taxpayer dollars.

To help ensure government leaders have the tools and support they need to deploy the $350 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds that has started flowing to U.S. local, state, tribal and territorial governments, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University hosted a recent workshop to help government practitioner attendees unpack the procurement process. The event was part of Beeck’s series designed to help government teams dig into the specific aspects of the ARP and build a community of sharing and collaboration for government practitioners navigating this historic influx of investment.

In this short, multi-part series, we will highlight some of the best practices and lessons learned from governments and their partners around public participation, procurement, delivering social safety net benefits, and using data to inform decisions and measure progress.

Three tips for successful procurement:

1. Engage stakeholders early and often, and plan for a future beyond the lifecycle of the contract.

City of New York

After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the City of New York received Community Development Block Grant funding from the federal government to help rebuild storm-ravaged neighborhoods. Nearly a decade later, many of those projects — and the contracts that support them — are still going strong, said Rachel Laiserin, Chief Financial Officer of the NYC Department of Design and Construction.

The key to the success of those projects has been a commitment to including contracting officers, procurement staff, legal teams and finance team members early in the process and maintaining a long-term perspective.

“If you’re thinking of a 10-, 15-, or 20-year horizon, the same people who are doing the projects today might not be there in 10 years when someone is looking at it,” Laiserin said. “Think about how you’re tracking expenditures, keep it organized, and make it accessible … Invest time now to save time later.”

2. Don’t be overly prescriptive.

18F, U.S. General Services Administration

For 18F, working with federal, state and local governments to deliver efficient, easy-to-use digital services means helping procure the right vendors for the job.

Miatta Myers, 18F’s acquisition lead, believes that having smaller contracts and diversifying the vendors you contract with are key to getting ARP dollars into the economy. Providing the government’s high-level objectives to vendors and then asking them to show how they would achieve those objectives, as well as asking vendors for samples of previous work are effective ways to help speed up the award process.

“The more contracts you award, the more ARP dollars you can inject into the economy,” Myers said. “So focus on the objectives of the project and provide as much info about the problem space to the vendor so that they can accurately estimate the cost and the labor needed to perform on the contract.”

3. Look at procurement tools as open windows, not roadblocks.

State of Colorado

For Janell Schafer, procurement lead for the Colorado Digital Service, utilizing your procurement toolbox effectively is the key to getting people what they need. When you use procurement rules as strategic tools, foster cross-functional collaboration, prioritize engagement with end-users and embrace change, contracts are stronger and more flexible for it.

“Think of procurement as a change agent and lever for improving how we get particular services, goods, and materials into the hands of those that need them and deliver essential services throughout government,” Schafer said.

The team at the Beeck Center invites you to visit our ARP resource website as we continue to build a community of practice of government practitioners navigating this once-in-a-generation moment of impact.

Kevin Parker, a champion of public entrepreneurship and enhancing the citizen experience, is a Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University, focused on convening government practitioners to strategically implement the American Rescue Plan.

Ashleigh Fryer is the Storyteller-in-Residence at the Beeck Center, focused on humanizing social impact to help catalyze change. You can find her on LinkedIn.

Photo by Mackenzie Marco

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