Best Practices: Procurement Practices

Nov. 16, 2016

Tampa, Fla.

Al Burns

Director of Procurement and Contracts Administration

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority

Over the course of the last 12 years as a director in public transit procurement, I have learned that there isn’t one thing that is most important to procurement success in an organization. There are a couple of things that are attributed to the success. The number one thing, in my opinion, is the support of the person in charge of the agency; whether that be a general manager or the CEO. Without their support, all policies and procedures that you try to enforce would be futile. Here at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), the procurement department is fortunate to have the support of our CEO, Katharine Eagan, and her entire executive team, which includes the CFO, COO and CAO.

The second element is planning. Here at HART we have developed an annual procurement plan that is strictly enforced. The procurement plan is developed during the budget process to ensure that procurement is at the table so we know what the organizational capital projects are for the upcoming year, as well as monitoring the procurement plan weekly to make sure that the agency is on target to complete its projects. In addition to the procurement plan, we monitor our contracts biweekly and send out notifications to the departments of expiring contracts. We also monitor our open requisitions report on a daily basis. Reviewing all of these reports enables me to make sure that I distribute the work equable among the procurement department staff.

As we are a midsize transit agency, we are not afforded the ERP systems that the larger agencies utilize, so organization is the third most critical component to our success. This is demonstrated through our solicitation and contract files which tell the story of the procurement in chronological order. This has made us tremendously successful here at HART as noted in the last three external audits, which resulted in zero findings. In our most recent triennial review we also received zero finding. After the review, the triennial team recognized our department for being very well organized and we were praised on the step-by-step system we created for our procurement procedures. 

The last element to our success is in the team. Individuals advance in the procurement field not only due to their technical knowledge of procurement, but due to a set of acquired management skills. To quote Vince Lombardi: “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” That said, I cannot take sole credit for the accomplishment of our successful procurement operations, but must recognize our awesome procurement team for their diligence in making our procurement department truly successful. 

Orange, Calif. 

Darrell Johnson


Orange County Transportation Authority

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) represents the transportation needs of the more than 3.1 million people of Orange County and oversees a $1.1 billion annual budget. Our strong procurement policies ultimately are about ensuring integrity and upholding the public trust.

OCTA, which was formed in 1991 as the consolidation of several individual transportation agencies, from the beginning adopted policies that strictly adhere to California state law and follow the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as well as industry best practices. Our procurement process was developed to provide for utmost transparency and fair competition among suppliers of services and materials to ensure efficiency and the highest quality of work for the people we serve.

As CEO, I highly value our procurement procedures, as do our board members and the local business community.

OCTA has a centralized Contracts Administration and Materials Management (CAMM) department, which focuses all procurement activity in a single department. The CAMM department oversees purchases of all goods, including materials and equipment, and all services, including professional, architecture and engineering, public works/construction and other supports services such as printing, painting and software licenses.

Specific procedures and dollar thresholds have been clearly established for each procurement type, whether competitively negotiated, sealed bids or sole source, ensuring that OCTA board members, who represent all areas of our county, get the opportunity to review and approve large bids.

Beyond basic standards for procurement, OCTA has instituted a robust evaluation process. Board policy dictates that proposals are reviewed by an evaluation committee of at least five members for any procurement more than $250,000. Evaluation committees are comprised of subject-matter experts and include an external member with expertise.

Unique to OCTA is a mandate we instituted in 2013 that requires every evaluation committee member to take a training class that reviews the roles and responsibilities of evaluators. The class covers potential conflicts of interest and emphasizes the need for strict confidentiality. All employees sign and renew a code of conduct pledge and undergo ethics training.

As another example, we recently received proposals for the Interstate 405 design-build contract, a large-scale capital improvement project estimated to cost $1.9 billion. All employees were notified of the three short-listed firms and reminded that confidentiality is of paramount importance throughout the procurement process.

The FTA has conducted procurement-specific audits, as well as triennial audits, and has reaffirmed OCTA’s practices with no findings for improvements. OCTA’s procurement department has earned the Annual Achievement of Excellence in Procurement Award from the National Procurement Institute for six consecutive years.

By having strong policies in place and routinely emphasizing the importance of full and open competition, we can be confident that the public and the local business community continues to have confidence in OCTA.

Phoenix, Ariz.

Kim Hayden

Lead Contract Specialist II

City of Phoenix Public Transit Department

The procurement process, while not the most exciting of topics, is a core part of any agency and can make or break citizen experiences with city services.

The city of Phoenix Public Transit Department is responsible for procuring the goods and services necessary for transit operations in the Phoenix area. The Phoenix City Code and Administrative Regulations provides guidance to city departments, including Public Transit, and ensures uniform procurement standards. In addition, because Public Transit receives federal funds we also must adhere to the Federal Transit Administration’s requirements.  

Our procurement process

  • Planning - reports are used to forecast future needs and track contract expiration dates 
  • Creating timelines - to meet the needs of the department  
  • Updating and reporting – crucial to not exceeding the allocated budget
  • Picking solicitation method – based on the value and/or complexity of goods or services
  • Selecting and awarding - documenting contract selection decision and negotiation
  • Administrating contract – monitoring contractor performance

Public Transit has been successful in utilizing cooperative purchasing agreements awarded by other governmental agencies or “piggybacking” on existing contracts. Most recently, Public Transit partnered with another transit agency and issued two joint procurements (RFP) for the purchase of buses which allowed both agencies to take advantage of economies of scale and reduce administrative effort and expense.

Whichever solicitation method is selected, it is vital (whenever possible) to encourage a full and open competitive process where all potential offerors are given an equal opportunity to participate in the procurement process. Phoenix encourages competition by eliminating restrictive specifications such as brand names and avoiding unreasonable requirements.

Transparency is another key ingredient throughout the procurement process. Transparency builds public trust and can lead to more competition as well as obtaining a better value for our goods and services. We advertise all of our procurements in local and national publications and make the solicitation documents easily accessible from the city’s website.  We also conduct education and outreach to encourage small and disadvantaged business enterprises to participate in our procurements.

Contract monitoring and oversight is critical in our contract administration process. The contract monitoring plan is included in each solicitation so the offerors know up-front how the contract will be monitored. Performance problems are identified and addressed.

It takes a variety of factors to create an effective procurement environment. Employing knowledgeable procurement staff provides a valuable resource to your agency. Conducting transparent and competitive procurement processes and ensuring contractors comply with the terms of the contract are key to a successful procurement operation. Most importantly this gives our community the best quality for the best price — and that is exciting.  

Denton, Texas

Athena Forrester

Senior Procurement Manager, CPPO, CPPB

Denton County Transportation Authority

A successful procurement begins with a strategic plan and a collaborative effort between procurement staff and stakeholders. At DCTA, each procurement project involves planning, scheduling, market research, budgeting and compliance with regulatory guidelines and internal control procedures. Our procurement department must have a clear understanding of the desired outcome, the potential impact on DCTA and the strategic plan for the agency.  A successful procurement is determined by satisfied customers both internal and external, and receipt of the goods or services at the best value to the agency. By including stakeholders in the procurement process, we can make the development of specifications easier and less painful for customers.

DCTA employees conduct business with the highest level of customer service, ethical standards, and transparency while following a well-managed documented process. Regulations change, and DCTA’s procurement department makes it a top priority to stay current with the regulatory guidelines of the funding agency. Another key component for successful procurement operations is professional development. This is a vital component for DCTA’s procurement department to know the trends in procurement and network with peers to learn best practices and better solutions to meet the needs of customers. 

Procurement is an ever-evolving area and all staff must be aware of the changing environment in which we work. Being flexible and open minded to suggestions and easier ways to get the job done are very critical in our profession and we must learn to do more with less. Mentoring to other procurement staff and stakeholders is very crucial to a successful procurement department. Developing these relationships can lead to a smoother procurement process if the stakeholders believes their needs are being considered and will receive the desired outcome.

Another key for successful procurement operations is to survey of internal and external customers to use as a benchmark for performance. Survey results can be used to develop and implement improvements, and is a standardized criteria category for the Annual Achievement of Excellence in Procurement (AEP), which DCTA was awarded this year from the National Procurement Institute Inc.   

The AEP Award is earned by public and non-profit organizations that obtain a high application score based on standardized criteria. DCTA is proud to have received the award and be an example for other transit agencies for innovation, professionalism, e-procurement, productivity, and leadership in the procurement function

DCTA is committed to improving the procurement process and will continue to provide staff with continuous training and assistance to ensure that procurement operations fun smoothly for all future projects.