This article is a proponent of NASPO Best Practices: Ethics and Accountability white paper and aims to augment research in proactive ethical practices through accountability, transparency, and conflict of interest. NASPO strives to emit leadership, excellence and, integrity while elevating the profession of public procurement through best practices. As stewards of taxpayers’ money, it is imperative that procurement staff not only choose the right path when dealing with an ethical dilemma but the ‘best’ path, in order to remain beyond reproach in the public eye.
Contract management is paramount to successful procurement. Generally speaking, it’s the overarching process that a government agency uses to ensure the contractor performs in accordance with the requirements in the statement of work or the specifications.[i] Within contract management, contract administration is the process that provides the oversight required to ensure that both parties follow the contract requirements.[ii] Often, organizations devote most of their time and energy to procurement itself, with limited focus on getting a contract in place. With the heavy demands on a short-staffed procurement office, it is easy to celebrate as soon as contracts are awarded and service begins. However, this deprives the procurement staff and the public alike, of the value of careful oversight and management of the post-award phase. A procurement office that is proactive rather than reactive can help prevent costly problems before they occur. Additionally, adequate monitoring can measure performance drivers that could aid procurement officials in future bids and vendor relations.
Contract management is a team effort: central procurement offices should act proactively in establishing good communication between the vendor, the agency procurement officer, the program manager, the end user agency, as well as any other stakeholders involved after the contract has been awarded. The true test of good contract management is the delivery of quality services not only at the initial stages but throughout the life of the contract. Successful procurement officials know it is crucial to always follow up with a vendor who may have questions concerning a contract or award; to ensure timely status reports are being submitted. As NASPO’s Contract Administration Guide points out, contract administration tends to take a back seat in contract management, until a problem arises. Conducting due diligence in contract management can add value to your procurement process, and potentially save the government from experiencing costly failures. The performance of due diligence is an appropriate expectation for anyone who seeks recognition as a professional in public procurement. Having the proper tools in place to support the procurement office in fulfilling its contract management role is essential to achieving the best possible outcomes of the contract.[iii]
The contract administration process directly impacts the end user agency and ultimately the citizens. Often, taking the easiest path today simply “delays the delay,” and failure to perform due diligence upfront can add hundreds of hours to a contract that should have only taken ten. Moreover, setting these expectations upfront is critical for those who aspire to be recognized as public procurement professionals. Below, we present six proactive steps contract administrators can take to avoid problems and ensure success.
Use effective communication – Continuous and open communication between the buyer and vendor is key to successful contract administration. Issue a “welcome letter” to the vendor that includes all the materials they will need throughout the process. Include helpful tips and tricks they can refer to while working with the state’s procurement office such as a frequently asked questions section, key contacts, and important dates.
Prepare a Contract Administration Plan (CAP)– The CAP is developed to aid contract administration once a contract is awarded. It identifies essential components of contract management that need to be addressed, and it can include contract administration team members; scope of work or specifications that include deliverables; contract goals; pricing structure for the contract; delivery terms and requirements, etc.[iv]
Hold a post-award kick-off meeting – This meeting can set the stage for the expectations of the procurement official, contractor, and end-user agency. In this meeting, contract administrators will lay the groundwork for the proper channels of communication such as who will communicate; what is appropriate to communicate; and how to properly format communications. Additionally, participants of this meeting can discuss the timeline, related terms and conditions, clear definition of the division of labor, and performance expectations.[v]
Lead periodic status assessment meetings – These meetings should be specified in the contract and conducted on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly, etc.). The contract should specify when these assessments occur in the statement of work or as a formal deliverable including the frequency, content, and required attendees. Updated information on the status, issues, and concerns should be shared between the buyer and contractor. Written reports should be collected to help serve and to continue an open and honest dialogue on issues related to contract performance.
Prepare written status reports – To keep the buyer’s organization and customer aware of progress and issues that may arise, the contractor should provide written status reports as a deliverable. The reports can combine narrative with statistical analysis and create as little administrative burden as possible. Ensure that the reports include useful information that pertains specifically to the contract. Keeping the reports simple and concise will help to ensure the buyer reads the report.
Monitor and document vendor performance – Procurement officials should also be sure that a subject matter expert is assigned to monitor contract performance to ensure it fulfills contract requirements. Monitoring can also aid in validating information received from other sources, such as technical representatives, on the status of a project. According to the 2016 Survey of State Procurement Practices, more than half of state procurement offices record and track contract performance. Likewise, documenting contract performance can serve as a written record for future reference. Recordings of meetings, problems, and solutions can be used as supporting evidence, should any party need it for litigation or other disputes.[vi]
As stated in NASPO’s Best Practices: Ethics and Accountability research paper “It is the responsibility of procurement officials to ensure that both they and their staff exude core values such as accountability, integrity, and transparency.” Furthermore, clear communication and risk assessment emerge as overarching themes for successful contract management. As contracting workloads increase, purchase requirements become more complex and budgets and resources decline. It is imperative that as procurement professionals, you use every tool available in order to maintain the integrity of your office. Again, the work you put in on the forefront will inevitably affect you the end user agency, as well as the state you serve. Being proactive can save you costly, frustrating work on the back end of a contract, and allow your team flexibility, as other issues arise.