People often ask me what it’s like to work with public sector clients, I can honestly tell them that public sector can be one of the most rewarding work experiences if you know how it works.
Public sector can be anything from a large Federal agency, right down to the smallest town or village. The key is understanding the procurement practices of each of these organizations. Some public sector entities have clearly defined procurement rules, such as the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) guidelines that direct the Federal government, but others are trickier. Many local agencies (counties and municipalities) have their own set of procurement guidelines, usually adopted by their Board, or Council. These guidelines often set forth rules that have to do with how requests for proposals can be distributed, the number of minimum bids required and how proposals are awarded. Even more interesting are the contract vehicles that are utilized in public sector.
The Federal government typically purchase from the General Services Administration (GSA) contracts. These are pre-approved “schedules” that allow the Feds to purchase with a minimal number of steps. The GSA schedules ensure that vendors have been vetted and their pricing is in line with industry standards. GSA schedules also have standard terms and conditions (T&Cs) that make it easy to ensure both parties are treated fairly. The GSA schedules also have a “cooperative purchasing” clause, which allows the vendor to identify if they would like to extend their pricing to state and local governments as well. In states whose procurement laws allow it, agencies within can easily purchase from the GSA schedule, just like a Fed. Some states however, also have their own “schedules”.
State schedules can mimic a GSA schedule, in that in order to hold a contract, vendors must go through a rigorous practice of providing references, past performance reviews and pricing details, which once approved, allow the vendor a vehicle to sell to the State. Counties and municipalities are generally a more nebulous lot. Many counties are operating from municipal law adopted decades ago, which often contains antiquated terms and doesn’t allow for the advances in procurement technology that we see today. Many local governments are now reviewing their procurement practices to be more competitive and updated with their practices. Many public sector agencies are now including supplier diversity requirements and are crafting language that is opening up competition among small businesses.
All in all, working with the public sector is one way to directly impact the community in which you live, work and play. Once you are educated in public sector procurement practices, you can open a door that helps you educate other agencies and establish best practices, leading to more business and a greater impact on your community.