Published: September 28, 2021

Smaller governments frequently procure goods and services without a procurement manager. While smaller governments can get by without designated procurement managers for their daily operations, they occasionally take on larger projects like new building construction that can strain their limited resources. The burden of managing these projects often falls to managers who have several other duties or lack procurement expertise. Whether you have small or large procurements, here are five survival tips to help you navigate the procurement process:

Have a current, written procurement policy

A good written policy is a necessary foundation for helping you follow all the applicable procurement laws—no matter the situation. Whether you need to establish a procurement policy or update an existing one, the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) has guidance on what it should include. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure your policy includes the required documented procurement procedures when spending any federal funds (200.318 through 200.327 of 2 CFR 200 the Uniform Guidance). 

Know what bid laws apply to you

RCW 39.04 contains some bid laws, but you also need to be familiar with the laws in your government’s authorizing statute. Some laws apply to everyone, while other laws like public bidding dollar thresholds are specific to each government type.

The differences between federal, state and local laws can further complicate a proper bidding process. When you spend any amount of federal funds on a project, you must follow the strictest guidance offered among federal, state or local laws.

If you have questions about federally-funded procurements, be sure to contact your grantor and refer to the Uniform Guidance.

To look up state requirements for a future procurement, you can use MRSC’s tool to look up your contracting requirements. If you want to know your thresholds and statutes, our Buying and Bidding guide is also a good resource.

Explore possible alternatives to public bidding procedures

If you’re looking to complete some of your bidding work in advance, you might be able to take advantage of a roster process where you advertise and create a list of possible vendors to use in the future. Using the roster can reduce the burden of a full public bidding process when your project is under a certain threshold. You also have the option of using MRSC or another government’s list of vendors. The MRSC roster for small public works projects is a common list governments use for projects under $350,000 ($250,000 if using federal funds).

Another option is “piggybacking” on another government’s bid award. Piggybacking means that you are using the same price to purchase an item that another government secured through a public bidding process. Our piggybacking guide includes some requirements that governments need to be aware of when using this procurement process.

Seek expertise when you need it

Bid laws have several details and technicalities. It’s good to work closely with your legal counsel for guidance. Seeking legal guidance in advance will set your project up for success. 

In addition to legal guidance, governments can also contract for services outside of their expertise, such as construction management. If you consider this option, be sure to explore whether you are required to go through a public bid process to procure the construction management contract.

Just remember that you’ll need to monitor your contractors to ensure they are performing as expected and complying with applicable requirements. After all, compliance is ultimately the local government’s responsibility, even when contracting out.

Know where to find good information about procurement requirements

Our office has a guide to the basics of bid law to help a wide range of government types. This guide has essential information about purchasing, procuring and public works projects, as well as several links to additional resources. MRSC also has a wealth of procurement resources, along with guides for cities and counties.

For additional help

Remember, we’re here to help. While we might refer you to your legal counsel or grantor, we can answer some bid law questions through our HelpDesk. You can submit questions using our HelpDesk in the client portal.

We also have financial management specialists at the Center for Government Innovation who are available to talk through your projects. For assistance, send an email to Center@sao.wa.gov.

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