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Anti-corruption bill advances in House

January 15, 2016

A House committee Thursday gave full backing to an anti-corruption bill. The measure would eliminate two significant barriers to prosecuting bribery, bid rigging and fraud. The legislation is backed by the Florida USA Today Network, which includes FLORIDA TODAY.

The bill expands who can be subject to criminal sanction. It classifies private contractors as “public servants” for the purpose of fighting public corruption. It makes it easier for prosecutors to try and win cases by shifting the burden of proof. Presently, prosecutors have to prove corrupt intent. The bill, if passed, will shift the burden to the defendants knowingly and willingly engaged in illegal conduct.

The bill’s provisions include recommendations from a statewide grand jury on public corruption.

The House Rules, Calendar and Ethics Committee approved the bill by a 19 – 0 vote Thursday. The committee’s chair, Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, is carrying the bill in the House. After the vote, a constituent encountered him in the Capitol Courtyard and congratulated him on the unanimous vote.

“They stumbled in the Senate, but you did it right, Ritch,” the man said.

“It was a bi-partisan vote. We did it in a bi-partisan fashion,” responded Workman, as he continued toward the House office building.

A Senate committee killed a companion bill earlier this week with a 3 – 1 no vote. However, sponsor, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, then inserted the provisions into another bill, which was passed by the Senate Ethics Committee. That proposal now needs to go before the committee that killed the original bill, the Senate Government Oversight Committee.

http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/01/14/corruption-bill-advances-house/78823974/

Contact James Call at jcall and follow on Twitter @CallTallahassee.

Fighting corruption in Florida

January 12, 2016

Florida no longer ranks as the most corrupt state in the country, but that is hardly cause to celebrate.

Tallahassee-based Integrity Florida released a report this week finding Florida had 622 federal convictions for public corruption from 2003 to 2013, more than any state but Texas and California.

Florida had ranked at the top of the list during the 10-year period from 2000 to 2010. But a downward trend doesn’t mean the state solved its corruption problem, as Integrity Florida research director Ben Wilcox said.

“That’s a lot of corruption, I don’t care how big Florida is,” Wilcox told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau. “I don’t think the fact that the numbers have declined means that we need to take our foot off the gas pedal. We need to go after this problem full-speed.”

Reforms passed in 2013 and 2014 were the first significant update of the state’s ethics laws since the 1970s. But much more could be done to ensure government accountability and prevent influence peddling and other corruption that falls short of outright bribery.

The Legislature must first stop weakening public records laws, which makes corruption harder for the media and public to catch. Lawmakers should also pass legislation endorsed by Integrity Florida as a way to ensure a more open, ethical and accountable government.

Senate Bill 582 would allow government contractors and vendors to be prosecuted under bribery laws and change the standard for some corruption cases. Senate Bill 686 would make those changes as well as other reforms, including requiring municipal elected officials to file more expansive financial disclosure forms.

But those bills aren’t enough. One of the most important improvements that could be made would be allowing the Florida Commission on Ethics to self-initiate investigations. Currently, the commission in most cases must wait until a complaint is filed to investigate possible ethics violations.

We’re seeing the flaws in that process right now in a case involving a former police union head paying for Gainesville Mayor Ed Braddy’s meals and hotel rooms. The commission couldn’t determine if a ban on public officials accepting gifts from lobbyists or other ethics laws were violated until Braddy himself or others filed a complaint.

Other measures promoted by Integrity Florida include increasing civil penalties for ethics violations to $20,000 from $10,000. The group also recommends restoring a standard allowing the commission to award attorney’s fees only against complainants who maliciously and knowingly file false complaints.

Federal corruption convictions only reveal part of the problem with ethics violations in Florida. They only include people caught and convicted, and don’t include state and local prosecutions.

A statewide grand jury created in February 2010 at the request of then-Gov. Charlie Crist found public officials often escape punishment for corruption in Florida. The act might not be criminalized, the case too difficult to prove, the punishments too lenient or plea bargains taken to avoid negative publicity.

The grand jury concluded that widespread “theft and mismanagement” of public funds in Florida that amounted to a “corruption tax” that increased the cost of public services. Yet its recommendations to fix deficiencies in current law were essentially ignored by the Legislature.

State lawmakers started to address the problem with ethics reforms passed in 2013 and 2014, but didn’t go far enough. The measures endorsed by Integrity Florida would help Florida continue to shed its ranking as one of the most corrupt states in the country.

Reposted From: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20160108/OPINION01/160109775?p=3&tc=pg

Buying sustainable is changing the game

September 30, 2015

Often driven by top-level officials, sustainability and green purchasing is expected to continue to grow according to recent Government Procurement (GP) e-surveys of public buyers.

In fact, about 62 percent of respondents to a recent GP Green Purchasing survey predicted that their agency/organization would be more active in green purchasing in the next two years.

Several respondents to that survey were contacted about their sustainable/green purchasing, including Ron James, Senior Contract Officer-Procurement & Contracts at Radford University in Radford, Va. He says his university has created several green and sustainable initiatives. For example, the school recycles plastics and paper in campus offices. Dorm renovations include recycling mattresses and furniture.

“Our facilities maintenance team is installing energy-efficienct lighting, installing plants that require less water and fertilizer and using green cleaning products,” James says. “Our facilities construction operation has several buildings that are LEED-certified, and our two buildings currently under construction will be LEED-certified.” This link takes you to the Radford University Sustainability web page.

James says environmental requirements have changed the way his department buys products as well as the kinds of products his group buys. “When my office does a solicitation for many services and products, we request information such as recycled content, green-approved products, sustainability efforts, etc. Our scoring matrix gives points for potential vendor’s sustainability and green initiatives.”

James believes environmental and sustainability requirements are leading to changes in cooperative purchasing programs. He cites an example in his own state. “Virginia has a group of colleges and universities that have joined together as the Virginia Association of State Colleges and University Purchasing Professionals (VASCUPP). This group of 11 institutions all support green and sustainability initiatives similar to Radford’s.”

The VASCUPP site has a cooperative contracts section and a database of cooperative contracts. VASCUPP is based in Charlottesville, Va.

Texas public purchasers are relying more on recycled products, says another survey respondent, Kerry Doucette, Director of Strategic Sourcing at Houston Community College. The institution currently uses recycled paper and toner cartridges, and participates in cooperative agreements through purchasing cooperatives. Doucette says he sees signs that the sustainability movement is going strong. For example, he says vendors frequently approach his agency with new product offerings that meet recycled content requirements.

There can be a mutual tension between maintaining financial efficiency and buying environmentally friendly products, says Michael Eugene, Chief Operations Officer at the Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Fla. “Whether it’s alternatively fueled buses, paper made from recycled content or compostable cafeteria plates, going green also has to be good for business [and government].”

Eugene says procurement officers can play an integral role in assisting managers to examine the total cost of going green to seek the ideal balance of reducing costs while also improving the environment.

On the subject of being sustainable through cooperative buys, Eugene offers this qualifier: “Cooperative purchasing program can help if they strategically assist to leverage economies-of-scale for green solutions to drive costs down. If they are just transaction mechanisms to expedite the contracting process, I don’t believe they would be as effective.”

The changing of the guard in public procurement will lead to more sustainable practices, says John Adler, Vice President, Procurement at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agency. “Just my opinion… as millennials begin to take over the workplace, there will be greater focus on green and sustainability,” says Adler, who has been with DART for nine years. It seems millennials are much more in tune with the environment and smart enough to do something about it.”

Michael Keating is Senior Editor at Government Product News, an American City & County sister brand.
Michael Keating | Government Product News
http://americancityandcounty.com/coop-solutions/buying-sustainable-changing-game

PLEASE NOTE: Florida has a very broad public records law (F. S. 119).
All e-mails to and from County Officials are kept as a public record.
Your e-mail communications, including your e-mail address may be
disclosed to the public and media at any time.

Coop purchasing best practices

August 25, 2015

See: http://americancityandcounty.com/coop-solutions/best-practices-using-co-ops

As Joseph Procop, procurement manager of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, began looking for 15 buses to replace some older models, he found a contract in a Louisiana county that he thought promising. By piggybacking onto an existing contract, his agency could pay much less for the buses than if it went out to bid on the relatively small number that it needed.

But when he looked into the details behind the Louisiana contract, he learned that the county could not offer to extend its contract outside of the state. Instead he had to turn to a contract issued by a city in Pennsylvania that could offer him buses at a good price.

“We needed to look at all of the legal hurdles,” he said of the experience. “We have to make sure that everything is squared away from a legal standpoint.”

Gaining a firm understanding of the legal aspects of a cooperative contract is just one of the many practices that procurement officials follow when deciding whether to take advantage of a cooperative agreement.

Whether piggybacking on another community’s contract or buying through one of the many national cooperatives that provide purchasing options for governments throughout the country, government officials are finding more options than ever to speed up their procurement process at good prices with limited staff.

Yet, they also point out that they take considerable care to make sure that the purchase they are pursuing fits the requirements of their employer.

“You’ve got to be careful about a cooperative bid,” says Joel Manning, who buys for Charlotte/Mecklinberg County Library system. “You have to look and see who’s driving the bid.”

Procurement officials take advantage of many new technologies that help them scour the marketplace to find out what is available that meets their needs. Often, they consult with their colleagues on the availability of contracts that might best work for them. Finally, especially on larger-cost items, they talk to vendors about contracts that the vendor has already signed in other governments that might work for them.

“Our eyes and ears are always open to anything out there,” says Adam Boeche, director of public works and engineering in Mundelein, Ill.

Following a process to find a co-op

Carolyn Ninedorf, purchasing agent for Dade County, Wis., says that she follows a process to determine the suitability of a cooperative agreement for her county’s purposes. “I look at what’s behind the contract,” she says. “Does it have a good cost, is the quantity I need available? Is the contract good for us? Can we get good value by using the contract?”

Purchasing officials especially like the additional flexibility that cooperatives provide their operations, since most do not require any commitment to buy. “We use co-ops as a comparison against other opportunities,” says John Holmes, a buyer in La Plata County, Colo. “We have the right to buy off the bid, but the fallback is we can withdraw if we find a lower price.”

As part of its process, the county spot checks the co-op price against other bidders, including local vendors. “Sometimes the co-op bids are higher,” he says. “They might have to be available for a full year, so they have to include an escalation against inflation. If I need something the next Monday, I would get the current market price.”

Another factor might be the cost of shipping, if the contract provider is father away. A local vendor might be able to fulfill the bid at a slightly higher price, but not charge for shipping. In the end, the county might be better off going local.

Buying local also has a secondary positive effect, says Angelo Salomone, purchasing administrator for Coral Springs, Fla. “The local vendor is service oriented; they have boots on the ground,” he says. “It’s important to have a strong local presence.”

Increasingly, though, vendors have become responsive to the concept of selling to one entity as part of a broader contract. This can be a win-win for both sides of the contract, procurement officials say, since the vendor gets a bigger sale for the same effort and the buyer can take advantage of the economies of larger purchases.

“We depend on vendor communication to some extent,” says Dan Marron, contracts and risk manager for Sparks, Nev. “They hear what’s best out there, which contracts we might be able to piggyback onto. Everyone has a co-op contract. It’s the first thing the buyer asks.”

With so much opportunity, governments are finding that cooperative buying has become a good channel for meeting their purchasing needs and that experience has brought increasing confidence in the best practices to ensure that the government entity is getting the right product or service for the right price.

“The industry has evolved.” Marran says. “There’s an alphabet soup of co-ops. The largest co-ops, we know they do good work. We’re not as concerned with the process.”

PLEASE NOTE: Florida has a very broad public records law (F. S. 119).
All e-mails to and from County Officials are kept as a public record.
Your e-mail communications, including your e-mail address may be
disclosed to the public and media at any time.

How can government make public procurement more strategic? Start by streamlining, automating, and standardizing.

July 21, 2015

Highly respected voices in procurement circles—public and private—are evangelizing the message that procurement must become more strategic and less fixated on costs to achieve its true potential. This message resonates favorably with internal and external procurement stakeholders, especially those who feel pressured into buying or selling decisions.

However, for many years public procurement has been haunted by reports, going back to the 1980s and 1990s, of $436 hammers and $640 toilet seats. Consequently, the idea that paying less attention to cost is a good thing does not inspire an "It’s about time!" response from the average citizen.

Wherever you stand, though, the issue of strategic procurement goes much deeper than a discussion of how to purchase equipment and supplies more intelligently. It is an issue that potentially has a major impact on citizen income and quality of life.

Case in Point: American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Stimulus Funding

I served as the director of procurement and contracting for Palm Springs International Airport, and in a similar capacity for the City of Palm Springs. For the Palm Springs airport, about 90 percent of major capital improvement projects were funded by grants issued through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Receipt of these grant funds was based on multiple factors. One factor was having the project already designed and ready to bid and construct.

In the City of Palm Springs, like many cities in the United States, capital projects financed by local funds are developed very differently than FAA-funded airport projects. These projects are not designed ready to go out to bid prior to being approved through the budget process. This distinction diminished the success of "shovel-ready" ARRA-funded infrastructure projects, which were supposed to be an immediate economic stimulus. When the ARRA stimulus funding program was announced, city projects that were needed but unfunded were pushed forward in an attempt to qualify for the funding.

Keep in mind that local government never used the term "shovel ready." Instead, it used the more generic phrase "ready to go," which meant that planning was completed, environmental requirements were addressed, and design work was finalized.

The only projects on the shelf that met those criteria were already budgeted and funded, however. The problem: Because the stimulus program was designed to create new jobs that would not exist without it, projects already approved and funded were ineligible for funding.

Was It a Process or Strategy Problem?

Clearly, moving complex projects forward in sufficient time to qualify for stimulus funding posed a formidable challenge for Palm Springs and other local governments. Federal decision makers committed a strategic error by not checking with local government about the immediate stockpile of projects "shovel ready" to receive ARRA stimulus funding approval. This made it impossible for the stimulus program to achieve its goals: create a projected number of immediate jobs and accomplish much-needed infrastructure improvements.

The lack of collaboration and connectedness between federal acquisition programs conducted under Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and state and local government procurement rules and regulations is longstanding. Both are involved with contracting for supplies, equipment, and such services as construction, but the operating environments are very different. They are so different that there is no significant cross hiring between the two sectors. They operate in parallel but separate tracks.

Federal, state, and local procurement programs share a larger problem than failing to collaborate effectively. The real pain point is that both suffer from not having a seat in the government equivalent of the C-suite. As a result, there is a lack of procurement considerations in broader planning and strategy. In the end, procurement is simply seen as dealing with questions of means (how to do something) rather than with questions of ends (what to do).

For procurement to be recognized as a strategic function, its professionals must participate in strategic decisions involving ends. Procurement needs to be redefined and recognized as a strategic activity. To do that, the profession must contribute to overall government objectives—something it failed to do with the stimulus program. Bottom line: procurement must find a way to take a leading role.

Ironically, procurement was fingered as the source of the failed rollout of the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as ObamaCare). On one hand, this blame was undeserved because mandated (but antiquated) procurement procedures handicapped procurement in the solicitation and awarding of effective IT systems. On the other hand, we could argue that procurement was culpable because it failed to adequately make the argument that existing procedures were not relevant to the acquisition of current and future technology.

The good news: The flawed rollout of ObamaCare may turn out to be a long-term blessing for public procurement. It has generated cries for procurement reform from many sources.

For example, reform proponents have raised the question of how advances in technology can streamline and automate procurement processes. Consider Amazon and eBay. People can easily participate in an eBay auction and simply—and quickly—pay for their purchases via PayPal. People making purchases on Amazon instantly have access to multiple choices and can easily view and weigh risk factors such as product reliability and performance issues.

It is interesting to note that, like Amazon, a federal feedback program is being initiated that enables customers to evaluate their experience with IT service providers. It is being likened to Yelp for government.

Meanwhile, in the area of payments, some of the e-invoicing firms are now able to capture and pay electronically for transactions that are not managed or tracked in the traditional ERP installations. This enables enhanced spend analysis and better controls and monitoring.

Making procurement more strategic goes hand-in-hand with seizing the opportunity to streamline and automate traditional performance and monitoring functions, which will free up valuable staff time. Indeed, most public procurement departments today are understaffed and overworked. Worse, they are bogged down with process-based activities and rarely have time to devote to the activities they learn in professional training.

Automation and streamlining also benefits the business community that works with government entities. Automated systems will speed payments for services and new e-invoicing systems will decrease transaction costs associated with existing Visa, MasterCard, or American Express payment systems.

Another very worthwhile goal of procurement reform is to standardize the language used in solicitations and contracts. Procurement is one of the only professions in which globally accepted descriptors and terms are not used for identical processes.

For example, what is called a "bid" in the United States is called a "tender" in Canada and the United Kingdom. Likewise, federal and local government agencies in the United States call the same processes by different names. Also, what the federal government calls "acquisition," local agencies and the private sector typically call "procurement."

The business community confronts this language and terminology barrier when contracting with different government agencies. Many complain that each agency insists that those wishing to do business with it, respond using its preferred terminology.

Years ago, the American Bar Association developed the very successful and widely adopted Model Procurement Code. More recently, ConsensusDocs was developed for managing processes related to construction contracting. A project to develop a model solicitation document using standardized terminology would be a worthwhile endeavor, incorporating a lasting benefit for buyers and sellers alike.

Moving Forward

A truly strategic public procurement organization will positively affect citizens by lowering costs and adding value while doing the business of government. In addition, a strategic procurement department will serve as a vehicle to prevent government problems, such as the process failure of the ARRA Stimulus program and the defective rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

To become strategic, public procurement needs to drive changes related to streamlining, automating, and standardizing governmental services contracting. As such, government should consider adopting processes that have operated successfully and securely in the private sector.

In short, public procurement needs to look at the big picture and take its rightful place in shaping policy and positive change.

Author: Hal Good

Reposted from:

https://www.td.org/Publications/Magazines/The-Public-Manager/Archives/2015/Summer/Making-Public-Procurement-Strategic?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=astd_social

PLEASE NOTE: Florida has a very broad public records law (F. S. 119).
All e-mails to and from County Officials are kept as a public record.
Your e-mail communications, including your e-mail address may be
disclosed to the public and media at any time.

Job Opportunity: Senior Procurement Specialist

April 20, 2015

The City of Tamarac has a job opening for Senior Procurement Specialist. The job posting closes on May 4, 2015. Full details can be found on the FAPPO website.

PLEASE NOTE: Florida has a very broad public records law (F. S. 119).
All e-mails to and from County Officials are kept as a public record.
Your e-mail communications, including your e-mail address may be
disclosed to the public and media at any time.

Job Opportunity: Purchasing Coordinator

April 3, 2015

The City of New Smyrna Beach has a job opening for Purchasing Coordinator. The job posting closes on 4/17/15. Full details can be found on the FAPPO website.

PLEASE NOTE: Florida has a very broad public records law (F. S. 119).
All e-mails to and from County Officials are kept as a public record.
Your e-mail communications, including your e-mail address may be
disclosed to the public and media at any time.

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