40% of US public sector buyers 'overworked'

26 June 2017

Nearly 40% of US public sector buyers have reported being overworked and struggling to find time to prepare bids.

Onvia’s second annual Survey of Government Procurement Professionals found the proportion feeling overworked was up 4% on last year.

A quarter (24.8%) ranked not having “enough time to prepare and plan for bids or RFPs” as their greatest challenge. Almost a fifth (18.1%) listed meeting regulatory and contracting guidelines and rules as the top challenge.

Meanwhile, 17.8% said workload and staffing limitations were the principal challenges facing their departments and 15.8% cited working with users and stakeholders.

“Resource-stretched buyers are challenged with little time to research and write bid language, having to comply with multiple layers of rules and regulations and lacking specific knowledge of the items they are procuring,” said the report.

This was “forcing them to operate in a reactive mode rather than planning proactively”, it added.

One unnamed purchasing manager said: “We process over 150 bids per year and our staff has been cut in half.”

Onvia’s first report last year said understaffed procurement teams, resulting from agencies not replacing the staff that were cut during the recession, was emerging as a “long term trend.”

Onvia canvassed 668 procurement staff members from states, cities, counties, special districts and school districts for its survey of government procurement professionals and used the results to create its Procurement Performance Index (PPI).

The overall PPI, which tracks how well each agency is doing in offering acceptable turnaround times, good customer service and meeting requirements for integrity, fairness and trust, fell this year to 72.6 from 76.4.

“The PPI measures the overall performance of state and local government agencies in providing timely and trustworthy purchasing services,” said Paul Irby, B2G market analyst at Onvia.

“This year’s results show a clear decline in the procurement performance among agencies, a result that is driven by resourcing challenges and time constraints among buyers.”

Most agencies indicated no change in their spending on procurement, while 40% reported growth in spending since 2016.

The report said that having access to adequately staffed procurement teams can be important to some contractors – particularly well-established firms that often reply to tenders.

“When staff are overworked it can have negative impacts, such as poorly-worded bid language that can add preparation time for a bidder,” the report said.

An unnamed healthcare vendor said: “RFPs need to be better matched to the actual scope of work and more up-to-date.”

The percentage of staff reporting high or above average performance in response agility fell from 70% last year to 62%.

“At a high level, contractors certainly understand and expect a certain amount of wait time and uncertainty in the competitive bid process,” said the report, describing this as part of the “expense” of doing business with the government.

“However, these bidders also appreciate agencies that have shorter or more predictable turnaround times, and can either prefer the more business-friendly agencies or be less interested in those agencies that are losing ground in this area.”

One unnamed furniture vendor complained that “purchasing decisions at agencies are taking longer”.

A separate UK survey found more than half of buyers ate lunch at their desk due to work pressures.

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