Procurement Systems

Challenge

Many of the most important functions of state and local governments, from building and maintaining roads to housing the homeless, involve contracting for goods and services supplied by the private sector. For that reason, increasing the effectiveness of procurement practices is crucial to improving governments’ overall performance, especially when it comes to improving resident outcomes and addressing systemic inequities in service contracting and delivery.

Unfortunately, governments often treat procurement solely as an administrative function, rather than a core strategic activity that can spur innovation. Procurement processes are lengthy, complicated, and misunderstood by prospective vendors and governments’ own staff. Scopes of work are often overly prescriptive, stifling innovation and reducing interest from the vendor community. Contract management focuses on compliance instead of performance improvement, with vendors held accountable for inputs rather than outcomes. Often, the same vendors win contract after contract, and minority-led and small firms feel they have no chance to compete. 

“Business as usual” means major consequences for government staff, vendors, and residents alike. City staff see procurement as a hindrance instead of a tool to achieve outcomes. Vendors view state and local governments as clients rather than forward-thinking collaborators. Worse yet, residents face services that are delayed by years, poorly managed, and do little to meet their needs. Without a clear strategy, procurement cannot meaningfully address decades-long disparities in service delivery across race and socioeconomic status. It can even make those problems worse.

Approach

The GPL aims to elevate procurement as a strategic function that can help governments unlock new value, generate savings, make progress on equity, and improve the outcomes experienced by their residents. To that end, we test, spread, and scale practices that harness the full power of the procurement process and help governments advance four key pillars of procurement excellence:

  • Transform the procurement process to be efficient, inviting, and transparent by reducing cycle time and creating standardized forms, processes, and procedures. 
     
  • Improve the outcomes of contracted programs, products, and services by setting up and managing procurements and contracts to meet contract-specific goals and government-wide strategic objectives
     
  • Invest in equity to improve economic mobility and achieve better outcomes for historically marginalized populations by increasing the share of dollars going to small and minority-led firms and managing contracts to achieve equitable delivery of contracted services
     
  • Elevate and resource procurement as a strategic function through building staff capacity and enhancing structures for communication and coordination around high priority procurements

The GPL aims to support governments in achieving Procurement Excellence through the following activities and initiatives:

  • The upcoming Procurement Excellence Network (to be launched in Fall 2022) will empower public sector leaders across the country to initiate procurement transformation with light touch support from the GPL. Any state or local government leader working in or adjacent to procurement will be able to join the Procurement Excellence Network and gain free access to new resources, tools, templates, and peer support. If you’d like more information, please contact us at gplpen@hks.harvard.edu. We also provide support to cities interested in transforming procurement through the leadership training program Leading City Procurement Reform, which provides support to 16 cities and is run in conjunction with the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University.
     
  • The GPL’s Procurement Excellence Cohorts support cities in transforming procurement by learning about and applying strategies across each of the four pillars of procurement excellence. This technical assistance is available to cities participating in the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance.
     
  • Extreme Procurement Makeover (EPM) projects aim to reform all aspects of procurement in a city, county, or state agency across all four pillars of procurement excellence. These projects involve intensive technical assistance provided by embedded GPL fellows who help agencies transform Request for Proposals (RFPs) and contracts, and advance enterprise-wide policy and systems-level changes that sustain progress over the long term. 

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