Connecting state and local government leaders
As Texas found, agencies can be cautious of new purchasing rules.
The state government in Texas saw a lot of activity around procurement during its 2015 legislative session, passing dramatic reforms within Senate Bill 20 to improve state agency accountability and ensure competitiveness.
Two agencies lead Texas procurement: the Department of Information Resources, which handles IT hardware, software and services contracts, and the Comptroller of Public Accounts, which oversees the purchase of things like office supplies and furniture through its Procurement and Support Services Division. The two programs meet every year to create a catalogue of master contracts state agencies can procure from without a request for offer.
S.B. 20 imposed new requirements on that purchase activity, capping IT hardware procurements at $1 million—at which point a full solicitation with a draft statement of work and DIR review is required.
“That ensures that the statements of work are within the scope of the master contracts,” Todd Kimbriel, Texas chief information officer, told Route Fifty in an interview. “It’s a much more competitive process when they have these large procurements.”
Prior to S.B. 20, Texas had issues with the vendor community doing things outside the scope of their master contract—perhaps acquiring hardware or software when they were only supposed to provide IT services. Those are separate contract vehicles.
About a year ago, after S.B. 20’s passage, Illinois-based trade group the Computing Technology Industry Association helped the Lone Star State develop a procurement committee.
Agencies were saying there weren’t allowed to talk to vendors and cautious about violating the new rules, so CompTIA started an education campaign alongside DIR with different departments. A guidance was released in May.
“We’re working with a lot of state CIOs on tech procurement,” said Jennifer Saha, public sector councils national director, at CompTIA. “Making this easy and learning from best practices.”
CompTIA’s State and Local Government and Education Council, one of three public sector councils the non-profit trade association runs nationally, solicits industry input on future procurement reforms because if something goes wrong, vendors lose money.
Open competition is the guiding principle behind CompTIA’s work, so Texas is taking pains to become more transparent posting RFOs and vendor responses on state websites. That way the public can see how agencies are spending their money and, more broadly, monitor the financial watchdog for them, the Legislative Budget Board.
Engaging vendors early and broadly on upcoming procurement legislation is another goal of Texas and CompTIA’s partnership to spur procurement growth in the wake of reform.
“According to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, there’s been a decrease in procurement activity in many states,” Kimbriel said. “And we’re sort of seeing the same thing.”
Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.