Connecting state and local government leaders
By wringing more efficiency out of the buying process and building sustainability into statewide contracts, California’s Department of General Services aims to help the state meet its aggressive sustainability goals.
California is building flexibility and sustainability options into statewide contracts, thanks to the work of Angela Shell. With almost 30 years of public sector experience, many of them in procurement, Shell uses her past work to inform current and future goals.
Currently the deputy director of California’s Department of General Services, or DGS, Shell and her team are digging into the enterprise procurement platform and processes and looking for ways to streamline buying. They are developing an e-marketplace for buying enterprise IT that will give state agencies an online catalog of available goods and services. Agencies will no longer have to research products to determine whether they comply with state requirements on, say, sustainable purchasing—procurement that emphasizes environmentally friendly choices.
With the new platform, agencies will be able to go into the e-marketplace, click on what they want and get connected back to the procurement system at DGS, which is the lead agency for carrying out sustainable purchasing. That way, according to Shell, DGS infuses “whatever sustainability requirements we can” into the main contracts that state agencies use.
Centralizing those purchases is “an efficiency for our state departments,” Shell said. “Where can we be a little more innovative in procurement but meet our core objectives?” she asked. “We continue to work towards that, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.”
Shell started her career in contract administration at the state’s Transportation Department, helping ensure the state received quality products and services from its contractors. Then she moved to working on the front end of the procurement process.
“It’s easy to look at a contract that’s been awarded and that you’re administering and say, ‘Well, gee, if we would have done this at the beginning of the contract, it would be so much easier,’” Shell said. “It was a natural fit for me to move to that front-end piece of the procurement process to see what can I do to make sure that the end result of the process is just as great.”
Currently, she’s working on a new approach that would be “flipping procurement on its end,” she said. “Traditionally, when you issue a procurement, you say, ‘I need a software system, I need it to do these 50 things and I need it to be delivered within a certain amount of time.’ You’re giving the vendor your specifics and saying, ‘Give me a price,’” Shell said.
The new approach changes the script. Agencies can now say, “I have a problem…. Maybe I need a technology solution, maybe I don’t. What I’m going to do is tell you what my problem is, and I want you to give me a proposal to tell me how to fix it, given your expertise in technology or non-IT services or goods,” Shell said.
As a result, vendors and researchers can comment on possible solutions and how the technology might evolving. Plus, it takes some of the onus of staying on top of fast-changing products and services off agencies, she said.
Another focus area for Shell is sustainable procurement—or prioritizing environmentally friendly choices. “We’ve come a long way from just looking at an environmental aspect of a good or a service to a more holistic approach with environmental, social and economic” aspects, she said.
That strategy can include using eco labels for janitorial products or making sure that hazardous waste items have an EPA ID number issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the California Department of Toxic Substances Control. “We infuse that into our contracts so that when our state or local entities are buying from our contract, we’ve already made them green,” Shell said.
Additionally, DGS developed a guide on how agencies at all levels can be greener in purchasing, and it runs the California Procurement and Contracting Academy, which offers training to help requisitioners, buyers, supervisors and managers adhere to federal and state Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, programs.
California has aggressive sustainability goals, and procurement is a central piece of that, Shell said. For example, the state’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery manages a recycled content program established through public code.
“Every department is required to report in our enterprise system the amount of recycled materials in goods and services that they buy, if applicable,” Shell said. There are statutory requirements for “things like recycled tires, recycled paint … and [agency] buyers are required across the state to implement those,” she said. “Then we capture that in our systems so that we can track that we are achieving our goals.”
DGS expects to publish its first sustainability report this year, capturing all that the procurement team is doing with respect to EPP.