Faced with deepening budget cuts, public agencies are expected to provide improved services with fewer resources. Many agencies seeking to stretch shrinking funds choose to participate in cooperative purchasing alliances that offer reduced procurement costs through leveraged group volume.
By definition, a cooperative purchasing alliance is formed when “two or more entities join together to combine requirements for goods or services through a common procurement.” Cooperative procurement allows participating agencies to reduce their cost of goods and services while increasing efficiencies within the organization.
With more than 44,000 participating agencies, U.S. Communities is a non-profit government purchasing cooperative that reduces the cost of goods and services through aggregate purchasing. All contracts are competitively solicited by a lead public agency and are made available to agencies and non-profit nationwide. Agencies eligible to use the U.S. Communities Program include state, county, city and local governments; public schools; colleges and universities; special districts (fire, sewer, water, etc.); and nonprofit organizations.
U.S. Communities is the only national purchasing cooperative founded by five leading national governmental organizations. The National Association of Counties represents county governments before the Administration and Congress and provides essential services to the nation’s 3,068 counties. The Association of School Business Officials International provides programs and services to promote the highest standards of school business management practices, professional growth, and the effective use of educational resources.
The National Institute of Governmental Purchasing develops and promotes the public procurement profession through educational and research programs, professional support, technical services, and advocacy initiatives that benefit members and constituents. The United States Conference of Mayors promotes the development of effective urban-suburban policy, provides mayors with leadership and management tools, and fosters strong federal-city relationships.
The National League of Cities is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities, serving as a resource to and an advocate for the over 19,000 cities, towns, and villages it represents. In addition to these, over 70 state associations support the U.S. Communities program with sponsorship.
How U.S. Communities Works
U.S. Communities offers a variety of products and services that include office and school supplies, office machines and printers, technology solutions, telecommunications supplies, and electrical products. The U.S. Communities program is comprised of a variety of government contracts, all of which have been competitively solicited by a local government agency. These contracts are made available for use by other non-federal government agencies and nonprofit organizations that provide public benefit.
When a public agency identifies products and/or services that are needed by the public sector to U.S. Communities, a well-recognized, full-service government agency serves as the Lead Public Agency, which prepares and issues a competitive solicitation on behalf of U.S. Communities and all 90,000 agencies. Laws regarding intergovernmental purchasing vary from state to state, but generally allow one government agency to purchase from contracts competitively solicited by the Lead Public Agency. This requires the consent of all governmental agencies involved, as well as the supplier.
Advertised nationally, solicitation includes language that allows eligible agencies to use or “piggyback on” the contract. This language is based on the lead jurisdiction “Joint Powers Authority” or “Cooperative Procurement Authority.” Once the submitted proposals are evaluated by the Lead Public Agency and Public Procurement Professionals, participating agencies can access the contract by registering online with U.S. Communities.
Companies interested in becoming an authorized supplier of U.S. Communities can periodically check the website’s Current Solicitations page to view postings of Requests for Proposal and invitations to bid issued by lead public agencies on behalf of the program. Most of the lead public agencies are members of the U.S. Communities Advisory Board who, after consultation with the Board, decide to conduct solicitations on behalf of their own agency and other public agencies nationwide under the U.S. Communities label. Agencies can also receive notices of solicitation by registering directly with the Advisory Board.
Public Agency Participation
Any public agency can participate in the program U.S. Communities without going out for solicitation. Free registration is available on line, with no restrictions on the dollar amount or size of an order. There are no costs or user fees to the local agency to participate in the U.S. Communities program. Each participating contract supplier pays a 1% to 2.5% administrative fee, which funds operating expenses and offsets costs incurred by national and state sponsors.
Participation in the U.S. Communities program gives agencies access to a broad range of high quality products at the best supplier overall pricing. Monitored by key public purchasing professionals, U.S. Communities performs third party audits and evaluates industry best practices through benchmarking analysis. If a performance problem with a particular supplier is not quickly resolved, agencies can contact a U.S. Communities program manager for assistance. There is also a website that helps agencies to “Buy Green,” featuring a step-by-step guide on how to implement a green government purchasing program.
Currently a U.S. Communities supplier, CARQUEST Auto Parts is a leading provider and distributor of replacement products and accessories for virtually all makes and types of vehicles. In March of 2011, the City of Charlotte, North Carolina issued an Invitation to Bid requesting bids from qualified firms to provide the City and other participating public agencies with automotive parts and services for light, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
CARQUEST was awarded a three-year contract that runs from Sept. 1, 2011 to August 31, 2014, with an option to renew for three additional one-year periods. The Lead Public Agency designated U.S. Communities as the administrative and marketing conduit for the distribution of the contract to participating public agencies. Through the contract, CARQUEST has committed to providing quality products at the lowest public sector pricing available.
With more than 3,400 member-owned locations and 40 distribution centers in the United States, Canada and Mexico, CARQUEST offers the largest inventory network in the industry.
CARQUEST’s training and assistance programs, TECH-NET Professional Auto Service and CARQUEST Technical Institute, are available to professional technicians and automobile repair facility owners, giving them the tools needed to provide their customers with quality, dependable service. CARQUEST e-Services is a suite of products that provide IT-based connectivity to its commercial customers with exclusive online ordering.
With more than 600 sales and operations professionals in the field, CARQUEST delivers quick, reliable service to its core customer: the professional technician. All pricing discounts are by product line and not tied to national volume, no minimum purchase is required to qualify for the best public sector pricing, and free delivery is provided within CARQUEST’s defined service network.
“We are excited to be able to offer automotive and fleet solutions through our new contract with CARQUEST Auto Parts,” said Chris Robb, National Operations Manager for U.S. Communities. “CARQUEST Auto Parts is the premier supplier of replacement products, accessories, supplies and equipment for virtually all makes of automobiles, as well as light and heavy-duty trucks, off-road equipment, buses, recreational vehicles and agricultural equipment. Their comprehensive offering provides opportunities for U.S. Communities participating agencies to gain efficiencies while achieving real savings.”
Through the U.S Communities program, Safeware-Mallory recently entered into a three-year contract with the County of Fairfax, V., running from Sept. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2014, with an option to renew for four additional one-year periods. Safeware-Mallory was formed when Safeware, Inc. of Landover, MD and Mallory Safety and Supply of Longview, WA partnered for the purpose of providing U.S. Communities participants exceptional products and services at reduced pricing.
The merger allowed both companies, leading providers of public safety and emergency preparedness equipment and services, to bring their respective regional expertise to a nationwide level. As Safeware Vice President Charles Radcliffe points out, “With Safeware on the East [Coast] and Mallory on the West, and this U.S. Communities contract addressing both the day-to-day and larger first responder project needs, we decided to partner more deeply across all levels, while still remaining separate companies.”
Specializing in personal protective equipment (PPE), Safeware-Mallory services and supports all aspects of safety for law enforcement and fire service special operations, as well as public utility and public works agencies. The company offers a broad range of safety services and solutions, such as environmental monitoring, hazardous materials storage, and spill control and containment.
Equipment solutions are available for detection, CBERNE search and rescue equipment, and explosive device mitigation and remediation. Solutions for fire and emergency response, traffic safety, and facility safety and maintenance are also provided, in addition to medical and first aid supplies and CBRNE reference materials.
By serving as a single source for all public safety equipment, including hard-to-find products, Safeware-Mallory can save agencies both time and money. Public agencies registered with U.S. Communities will receive all product and services at 41 percent below company list price, and can conveniently purchase products on their comprehensive Web site. No minimum quantity is required and all shipping is free. Additional information on CARQUEST, Safeware-Mallory, and other companies that serve the public sector can be accessed at the U.S. Communities Web site.
Photos courtesy of John Bellah.
Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.