Procurement professionals and contracts are under increasing scrutiny, with news reports about audits of state agencies and their purchasing procedures. Governor Greg Abbott has issued a letter to state agencies about purchasing, requesting that they follow procurement law, responsibly maximizing value and using open and transparent contracting processes. News reports implying that a cooperative purchasing contract was a “no-bid contract” are incorrect, unless the cooperative happens to be awarding contracts to any and all responders, (which is not a competitive process.)
Purchasing professionals are taught to avoid any conflict of interest or breach of ethics, and to ensure that the contracts they use provide best value for the district and are procured legally. Using an interlocal contract for purchases of $50,000 or more is one of seven allowed procurement methods under Texas Education Code section 44.031. While in the law specifies that interlocal government-to-government contracts are legal (Governmental Code Chapter 791), purchasing professionals still have to do their own verification to ensure that the cooperative they propose to use is following the law.
Check to see if the cooperative is a government entity. For example, an independent buying group that could be legal in some states is NOT legal in Texas, as it does not qualify under Government Code 791. Does the government entity require an interlocal contract to be signed (creating the member relationship)?
Ensure contracts are compliant with the law and competitively awarded. Does the cooperative have and share the evaluation tabulations with members to provide evidence of competitive process? If a cooperative automatically awards a contract to any vendor who responds to a Request for Proposal, there is no proof of competition.
Are their processes transparent? Will the cooperative share the details of the cooperative contract with the member?
Is there oversight on contract usage, either through an annual audit process or regular contract management? ( See the checklist for tips. )
Cooperative contracts are not the right solution for every purchase, but where it can save time and money while providing best value, it can be a great benefit for school district purchasing staff.
Harris County Department of Education was established in 1889 by the Texas Legislature and is required to follow Texas purchasing laws. Since the 1960’s, HCDE has shared its contracts with school districts, through the HCDE Purchasing Cooperative. Today that program is called Choice Partners cooperative and includes other cooperative purchasing contracts for facilities services and food/cafeteria related supplies. It has been called The Gold Standard when the government entity of the cooperative purchasing program uses its own contracts, which is the case with HCDE and Choice Partners cooperative.
State agencies and personnel can rely on Choice Partners national cooperative, where there is transparency, compliance and oversight for procurement and contract management. HCDE Choice Partners staff are serious about their goal “to help government and nonprofit entities by providing quality services, legal procurement and contract solutions.” Choice Partners contract managers have all taken ethics classes and are either certified or are completing TASBO certification, which requires procurement courses.
Choice Partners contracts are compliant. No vendors are awarded a contract without going through a competitive bidding process. (Learn about the Choice Partners procurement process.) When the law changed for facilities services (Sept. 1, 2011, Texas Government Code 2269), Choice Partners was in the lead, researching then implementing changes in procurement to ensure compliance.
Choice Partners contracts are transparent. Members have access to the contracts after they log on to the website. Choice Partners contracts have the oversight of an assigned contract manager, plus an annual audit. It is an everyday occurrence for contract managers to verify for members what items/services can be procured under the terms of the HCDE/Choice Partners contract.
Members can trust in HCDE/Choice Partners contracts. To become a member, download the interlocal.
For more information about Choice Partners, go to www.choicepartners.org.