Cooperative Governmental Purchasing: What You Need to Know
While not as well-known as it should be, cooperative governmental purchasing offers a way for multiple levels of government agencies to work together on purchases.
General Services Administration
Many know the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for its role in providing a means for pre-qualifying vendors and their related products and services. By doing so, it makes it easier for all federal government agencies to buy off-the-shelf products and services without the need to have them approved each time a new order comes up. It also helps pre-negotiate arrangements with these vendors so others do not have to.
Under the GSA’S Cooperative Purchasing Program, more than just federal agencies can benefit from the GSA’S hard work in developing the rightly-famed “GSA Schedules.” State, local and tribal governments can also take advantage of two very important parts of the GSA products and services list. These include:
Schedule 70: This is the largest and most-often-accessed acquisition vehicle anywhere within the federal government. It features a wide variety of information technology products and services, including mobile device and mobile application management (MDM/MAM) tools, automated data processing equipment (firmware), software, cloud computing services, hardware, support equipment and professional services. Schedule 70 was also the first of the areas authorized for the Cooperative Purchasing Program under the law that started this whole concept, as Section 211 of Public Law 107-347, the U.S. E-government Act of 2002.
Schedule 84: This is the place to go for the purchase of security and law enforcement equipment. It features alarm and signal systems, facility management systems, firefighting and rescue equipment, law enforcement and security equipment, marine craft and related equipment, special purpose clothing and related services.
Besides Schedules 70 and 84, the Cooperative Purchasing Program opportunities available to state, local and tribal governments also extend to specific U.S. government Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAS). These vary, but the following are some of those currently available:
• FSSI wireless BPAS, with wireless service plans and phones available at no additional cost
• The Email as a Service (Eaas) BPA
• The National Information Technology Commodity Program (NITCP) BPA for IT products such as computers, tablets, monitors, data center equipment and mobile solutions
• The Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) Program – Tools and Continuous Monitoring as a Service (CMAAS) BPAS that provide specialized information technology (IT) tools and CMAAS to combat cyber threats in the civilian “.gov” networks
As to who is authorized to make use of these schedules for purchasing, the law has a clear definition. Under 40 U.S.C. § 502 (c), “The term ‘state or local government’ includes any state, local, regional or tribal government or any instrumentality thereof (including any local educational agency or institution of higher education).” As one might expect, the term does not include contractors or grantees of state or local governments, but contractors or grantees working with state or local governments may want to encourage their funders to take advantage of the Cooperative Purchasing Program opportunities described below.
National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance
A second major national governmental purchasing cooperative with major importance is the National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance (NCPA).
Similar to the GSA, the NCPA works with a lead public agency to solicit master contracts covering products and services, their pricing and delivery information. Contracts are approved based on quality, performance and pricing.
Getting listed with the NCPA involves responding to a competitive solicitation from this cooperative, with sealed responses. The lead agency then evaluates the responses and recommends them for approval by the NCPA.
The list of organizations that are eligible to buy from the vast purchasing power of the NCPA is gigantic. There are over 90,000 agencies nationwide that can access these preapproved contracts. These include:
• School districts (including K-12, charter schools and private K-12)
• Higher education (including universities, community colleges, private colleges and technical/vocational schools)
• Cities, counties and any local government
U State agencies
U Health-care organizations
• Churches/religious organizations
• Nonprofit corporations
It is important to note that for the NCPA, unlike for the GSA, private organizations in the areas of education, higher education and health care, as well as churches/ religious organizations and nonprofit organizations of all kinds, can leverage the buying power of the NCPA.
The NCPA also points out that state laws vary in how they regulate the use of cooperative purchasing organizations like them. For this reason, it has gathered a very helpful portal to research the laws applicable to each location.
ESC2 Goodbuy Purchasing Cooperative
The Goodbuy Purchasing Cooperative is a good example of regional cooperative purchasing programs.
It is the official purchasing program of the Education Service Center, Region 2. It was established with regulation under the Texas School Law Bulletin, Sec. 44.031 Purchasing Contracts, and the Texas Government Code, Title 7 Intergovernmental Relations, Sec. 791 Interlocal Cooperation Contracts. The cooperative’s objective is, as its website states, “to make it possible for our members (independent school districts, charter schools, religious-based schools), city and county governmental entities, nonprofit organizations, universities and day care centers to purchase goods and services in an efficient, cost effective and competitive procurement method.”
As with the NCPA, the list of members eligible to use the program includes both governmental and nongovernmental organizations. It is restricted to the Texas area described under the operating law for the group. The Goodbuy Purchasing Cooperative also requires that members join the group before being able to buy. Those interested in becoming a member of the cooperative can get further information here.
Vendors wishing to become a part of the cooperative need to apply and submit proposals, though in a different way than the previous two groups. The first step is to register as a prospective vendor. The Goodbuy Purchasing Cooperative will then provide prospective and existing vendors with e-notifications of bid availability on the categories a registered member selects. Vendors are placed in the category of Awarded Vendors once they submit a bid and receive a contract award from the Education Service Center, Region 2’s board of directors. Information on registering as a prospective member is available here.
Other Governmental Purchasing Groups
With their benefits both for buyers and vendors, it is no surprise that there are many other organizations similar to the ones described above throughout the United States. Without going into the details of each, the following are some that readers may be interested in examining:
National IPA™ (nationalipa.org): The National Intergovernmental Purchasing Alliance is based in Tennessee but open nationally.
U.S. Communities ™ Government Purchasing Alliance (uscommunities.org): U.S. Communities, according to its website, “provides world-class government procurement resources and solutions to local and state government agencies, school districts (K-12), higher education institutions and nonprofits looking for the best overall supplier government pricing.” It has oversight from public purchasing individuals to help guide the operation. It also has no user fees to participate in the group.
Georgia’s Cooperative Purchasing Agency is a cooperative buying group authorized for use solely by Georgia School Systems.
Iowa-based Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEA Purchasing) is an initiative of the Iowa Association of Area Education Agencies (IAAEA). Its goal is to combine the purchasing power of Iowa schools to offer aggressive pricing on materials, goods and services through a competitive bid process. AEA Purchasing is also a member of the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA), a multistate nonprofit organization of educational service agencies that works to leverage purchasing power to enable all schools and agencies, regardless of size, to purchase at equal buying levels.
Minnesota’s Cooperative Purchasing Venture is a state-sponsored cooperative established by Minn. Stat. § 16C.03, subd.10. It allows eligible entities to purchase goods, certain services and utilities from contracts established by the Office of State Procurement for Minnesota state agencies.
North Dakota’s state Cooperative Purchasing is a free service in which eligible organizations can purchase goods and services from state contracts. Eligible groups include cities, counties, townships, public schools, State Board of Higher Education institutions, governmental boards and commissions, tribal agencies, public transit authorities, public health units and even nonprofit organizations established on behalf of public entities.
Purchasing Connection is a program of eight service cooperatives in Minnesota and the North Dakota Educators Service Cooperative for schools, local governments and nonprofits.
Ohio’s Cooperative Purchasing Program offers Ohio counties, townships, municipalities, school districts, public libraries, regional park districts and other political subdivisions the benefits and cost savings of buying goods and services through state contracts.
Other groups similar to these exist in many states within the United States.
Why Making Use of Cooperative Buying Groups Is Important
For state and local government agencies and other purchasing entities, the ability to buy items based on pre-negotiated volume purchase agreements has
several advantages. In most cases, the vendors and their products and services have all been prequalified in many respects for reasonable quality for their intended purpose. The pricing negotiations are also already complete, avoiding the need for an organization looking to purchase standard items to spend the time or resources needed to solicit competitive bids. Buying from these groups can also often provide better pricing than might be available to any individual organization looking to buy the same goods or services.
For contractors providing goods or services, being listed also has advantages. Being on the list of preapproved goods can provide a means of reaching a much wider base of customers than a vendor might easily be able to connect with on its own. Being a listed vendor also means a supplier does not have to go through the individual entity-by-entity qualification, bidding and negotiating process that often burns both time and money for all involved.
Cooperative purchasing organizations are far from perfect solutions to either buying or selling, but they have enough benefits that all government agencies looking for commonly available product categories should get involved in them. Vendors supplying standard products and services will also likely benefit by getting on the suppliers list of appropriate cooperative buying groups.
Problems With Cooperative Buying Groups
Cooperative purchasing groups can suffer from a lack of transparency and may not always offer the best product or service for the best price.
Cooperative purchasing can also restrict purchasing dollars to only the largest companies and deny business to smaller companies who might be able to support local employment and even offer better values.
NAPC and Cooperative Purchasing
In 2018, the NAPC will be rolling out a new cooperative purchasing program, reverse auction, surplus auctions and a bartering system to facilitate the buying, selling and bartering of goods and services for public and private organizations and individuals.
By leveraging the NAPC network and our 2.5 million suppliers and database of over 250,000 government agencies, we can help ensure greater value and transparency.