“High-Road Mayors” Must Be “Procurement People”

By Zach Lax • Founder, Bidmark

The truest reflection of a government’s values and priorities is what it spends money on. Legislation can be toothless, policies can be underenforced, and strategic plans can collect dust. Procurement, in contrast, is a contractual commitment to a real agenda. As the leaders setting that agenda, high-road mayors must understand and prioritize procurement like they would any other mayoral power. Transforming status-quo procurement into effective, high-road procurement is dependent on explicit buy-in and ongoing support at the mayoral level. Mayors who value procurement send a clear signal to their entire organization that how every purchase is made is equally important as what is purchased; prioritizing both is the only way to ensure that the result is both cost-effective and true to leadership’s values and agenda. “High-road mayors” must be “procurement people”, because that ensures procurement teams can drive the compliance, process improvement, and value-setting necessary for implementing a high-performing, high-road procurement function.

High-Road Procurement Starts at the Top

High-road mayors see procurement compliance as an important government measure rather than a roadblock. With some exceptions, many of the rules requiring public competition are intrinsically positive because they force governments to thoroughly justify purchases and are the primary defense against funneling money to the usual low-road corporate interests. Mayors who promote compliance as a mechanism for protecting public dollars and maximizing the investment for their residents send a tangible signal to their entire organization that procurement adds value and does not exist for the sake of checking a box.

High-road mayors involve their procurement teams in their strategy-building because they value the time procurement takes and they want to factor it into their planning. Instead of scrambling to push through purchases because they are the last to know, procurement personnel can support preliminary ideation and decision-making, allowing for the development of procurement mechanisms better tailored to the need at hand. Additionally, mayors who see procurement as a strategic lever give their procurement teams the space and support required to meaningfully improve their process and systems. High-road mayors promote procurement innovation as a critical part of their own changemaking. 

Lastly, a high-road mayor does put their money where their mouth is, incorporating high-road values in procurement by championing efforts such as increasing supplier diversity, mandating livable wage protections for selected vendors, and requiring RFP respondents to provide environmental impact reports that impact proposal scoring. All of these mechanisms and more are a way to shape the way businesses operate, and also ensure positive downstream impacts in the local economy over and above any direct benefit to the government and residents. If municipal departments do not see these values as important to their mayor, they will be deprioritized during the procurement process.        

High-Road Procurement Requires High-Road Tools

High-road procurement depends in part on high-road tools. Procurement software license structures that trap users on a given system or have high fees for making system improvements do not help procurement teams continuously improve their process and purchasing outcomes. Procurement consultants charge extraordinary rates to only leave behind recommendations for others to implement with zero investment in whether the changes are successful.

Because of this, and because there is such a need for procurement reform, in recent years alternative solutions to traditional procurement tools are emerging that rethink procurement software and support services (i..e, solicitation development, process improvement, vendor outreach, etc.). For example, our organization, Bidmark, has a unique offering and pricing model that can be implemented at no charge to municipalities. This approach ensures that our company’s incentives align with municipal users’ incentives. Combining the software and services to directly meet the specific needs of municipal users makes certain that the software features and functions update in tandem with any process or procedure updates driven by the services. High-road mayors are the best positioned to ensure high-road tools are being used, because they are the ones holding their staff accountable to high-road outcomes.

Hitting the High Road

High-road procurement doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with mayors incorporating procurement into their strategy-making and setting an expectation across the organization that procurement compliance and timing are levers and not roadblocks for aligning mayoral values with procurement outcomes. Organizations take time to adjust to change as their procurement tools – both software and services – are realigned with a high-road approach. Making these changes, however, is not work that can be saved for when things are “less busy”. Rather, it is a critical first step that is immediately necessary to make progress on the high-road.

Zach Lax is the founder of Bidmark, which combines an online procurement portal with professional services to make government procurement faster, less expensive, and more diverse. He has worked with and led procurement teams in public and private sector organizations of all shapes and sizes.