Procurement in Virginia

The Virginia Public Procurement Act applies to the Commonwealth's purchase of goods and services it cannot provide internally. Higher Education institutions operate under another regulatory layer tailored to the particular needs of public colleges and universities, a set of procurement rules called VASCUPP. If a state agency is purchasing goods and services using federal grant money, further federal regulations can set even more procurement thresholds and requirements in place. 


My experience with the procurement process has showed me that the Commonwealth of Virginia is in dire need of procurement modernization. The process is protracted and inefficient because it is designed not by those government agencies that have to operate under it, but by legislators. While some expanded authorities are granted to higher education institutions, they are unable to respond quickly to developing needs because the state procurement processes are woefully outdated. 


Changes were made to the Public Procurement Act in 2014 but these changes did not address the possibilities technological advance has brought us, chief among these:


1. The ability to submit procurement bids online through a secure portal. 

2. The ability for review panel members to download those bids for electronic review.

3. The ability for review panel members to upload review scores.

What's wrong with the current system?


1. Bids are delivered either by US Mail, paid courier, or in-person. This means someone needs to be sitting in a procurement office just stamping things in, regardless of whether or not the applications are complete and adhere to the RFP standards.

   1a. Electronic submission gives each application a time-stamp to prove definitively whether or not an application was on-time. Many federal awarding sites, such as National Science Foundation's Fastlane, National Institutes of Health's eRA, and general federal application site prevent submission of incomplete applications or immediately bounce them during a validation check. Rejection of incomplete bids cuts down on the number of non-responsive bids reviewers must expend time and energy to assess, saving state agencies money on what is often the most costly component of their budgets.

   1b. Virginia already uses eVA, an electronic procurement portal, and requires all vendors to be registered through that system before payments can be released. Invoices may be submitted electronically, so it is a logical extension to permit bids to be submitted electronically as well.


2. Copies of each response to the RFP must be picked up in-person from a Procurement office. Depending upon the number of members participating in a panel, this can mean that due to vacation, research leave, or absence the review panel may have to delay its first meeting because not all members have collected the bid packets. If the bids were submitted electronically and approved for release to the review panel, panel members could begin reviewing at any time and not have to travel to pick up hand-copied and stapled bids.


3. Our reviews were done on paper, scanned, and submitted to Procurement for tabulation and comparison. After a panel meeting, members were instructed to adjust their scores if appropriate after comments from other reviewers were shared. New written comments had to be scanned and submitted. These reviews become part of the public record so having all reviews in a centralized location to begin with allows an algorithm to combine and weight the scores for Value for Money comparison. 


There are other advantages to an electronic bidding system including the ability to notify bidders of whether or not their bids were accepted, conformity of presentation of costs, and immediate transparency when the procurement results are ready for public release.