How government agencies can overcome procurement challenges to benefit from the Infrastructure Bill and ARPA funding

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Highlights

This article discusses the following procurement strategies for governments to optimize the use of COVID relief and infrastructure bill funding:

  • Formalized training and certification programs for government procurement experts
  • Working to attract more federal support for procurement initiatives
  • Developing more innovative buying processes
  • Collaborating through coop contracts and buying groups
  • Deploying unified communications systems

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State and local governments have received access to rare funding over the last few years with the American Rescue Plan Act (COVID relief) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. This money creates opportunities for renovations, upgrades, new equipment, supply buildup, and more.

Many government agencies struggle with procurement challenges that mitigate the benefits of the money. It is necessary to secure the best rates and terms possible on purchases to optimize budget efficiency.

How your agency can overcome procurement challenges

The following is a look at how your agency can overcome procurement challenges to get the most value from your relief and infrastructure money.

More public procurement expertise

The government is not immune to the significant labor shortage that has impacted a number of industries since the start of COVID. In general, agencies have to do as much or more work with fewer employees. Many local and state governments have struggled to hire and retain qualified buyers with expertise in the public sector, which is quite different from buying in the private sector.

Given the limited existing supply of expert public procurement professionals, some states have implemented training and certification programs for state and local buyers. These programs give professional buyers more understanding of government procurement specific to their state or jurisdiction. 

At this point, many states do not offer or require formal training programs for public and government buyers. Not only does this lack of training and development get in the way of optimized procurement, it creates ethical and legal risks for buyers engaged in intra-state and inter-state procurement.

Improved federal support

The federal government provided billions of dollars in aid through COVID relief acts and the infrastructure bill, but it has done little to support improved government procurement at the state and local levels. With inadequate buying processes, agencies aren’t able to use either one-time special funding or standard taxpayer revenue in the most efficient ways. 

It is unclear exactly what the federal government can or should do, but a few options for consideration include:

  • Federally supported or endorsed training programs, standards, or procedures
  • Funding initiatives specifically for government procurement training or incentives
  • Collaboration and communication between federal and state/local governments

State and local governments have limited control over whether the federal government gets more involved, other than through collective communication on the matter.

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Innovating buying processes

Much of the money in ARPA and the Infrastructure Bill is aimed at helping communities bolster their digital infrastructure and broadband access. Unfortunately, a lack of innovative buying procedures makes it difficult to execute effective, budget-friendly plans.

Government buyers that do have expertise in the public sector are often boxed into ingrained buying processes. With limited resources, typical procurement specialists find it easier to stick with what they know than to transform. 

Transforming buying processes at the state or local government level could provide a number of advantages, including:

  • Wider access to suppliers through advanced digital procurement portals
  • Improved bargaining tactics to negotiate the best rates and terms
  • More use of just-in-time inventory systems that are commonplace in the private sector
  • Sourcing of more innovative equipment, materials, and supplies
  • Increased procurement of high-quality digital solutions that create synergy with the funding emphasis on digital infrastructure and broadband upgrade

Better collaboration

Joining forces is one of the impactful things your government can do to overcome procurement challenges. Cooperative contracts, which are agreements between a government and businesses, establish rates and terms for any agency or public entity covered. 

States, for instance, can negotiate favorable cooperative contract rates on goods and services that are purchased by many or all local governments. One way local governments can efficiently use relief and infrastructure money to upgrade digitally is through a state contract for desired solutions. Local governments also negotiate coop agreements that cover public entities in their jurisdictions.

Another way that governments can collaborate is by forming a group. Some local governments organize into regional buying groups, for instance. These groups similarly achieve cost efficiencies by pooling their buying power on universally-acquired goods and services.

Unified communications, contact centers, and coordination

Given operational capacity deficiencies, procurement specialists need every advantage they can get to optimize efficiency. Trying to coordinate buying for multiple agencies, offices, or entities is a central challenge for procurement specialists. The disconnected nature of these various entities contributes to inefficiencies and limitations in the development of optimized procedures.

A unified communications system combined with a cloud-based contact center solution offers a huge advantage in collaboration and coordination. This dynamic duo gives you the ability to easily interact with people internally or externally across all popular channels. Interactions are tracked and organized, and follow-up communications via e-mail (or through other channels) ensures everyone involved is aware of tasks, deadlines, and other key responsibilities.

Buyers can also interact with suppliers more efficiently during negotiations or as part of procurement or service inquiries with a robust contact center solution. The ability to track discussions on pricing and other terms is also beneficial for documentation to help governments demonstrate support of fair competition.

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UP NEXT: Cooperative contracts made easy

Try RingCentral to help with procurement challenges

Efficient procurement not only gives your government and agencies the best value on purchases, but it also demonstrates responsibility to taxpayers by reducing reliance on tax revenue. The strategies described here put you in a position to negotiate the most effective deals possible.  

RingCentral’s cloud-based communications system is a key piece of the puzzle for your government. It offers best-in-class communications on all popular platforms. See our government solutions to find out how RingCentral can help you overcome procurement problems and leverage one-time relief and infrastructure funds!

RingCentral is an Awarded Vendor through NASPO VP, NCPA, OMNIA Partners, PEPPM, and TIPS. As an Awarded Vendor, RingCentral offers members the opportunity to purchase services at a discounted price without the delay or expense of going to bid.

Originally published May 10, 2022

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