Purchasing in county government is an essential governmental business function. Procurement activities, which are expenditures made to the private sector for the purchase of goods and services, account for the second largest expenditure of taxpayer dollars in county government. The largest expenditure of taxpayer dollars in county government are for personal services that are paid out in the form of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.1 Clearly the purchasing function is very important.
Sound purchasing practices are indispensable to good governance. Good purchasing practices have the potential to reduce costs and enhance services provided to the public; poor purchasing practices may lead to waste and delay of services to the public. As the financial structure of counties grew more complex, and the demand for county governments to utilize well-grounded financial and purchasing techniques similar to the techniques employed by businesses increased, the General Assembly passed the Fiscal Control Acts of 1957 and the County Financial Management System of 1981. These are general laws of local application that only apply to counties in which they have been approved by a two-thirds vote of the county legislative body, or by a majority of the voters in a referendum. These acts permit counties to centralize their financial and purchasing functions into one (or possibly two) departments. Further, these acts provide for the employment of a trained technician in finance and/or purchasing, and set about to apply rational business management procedures and improve the county’s financial information.
The integrity and efficiency of the county procurement process is a crucial component of its credibility. Fairness and impartiality in all phases of the procurement process are an essential ingredient in county purchasing. Even the perception of public officials and employees misusing the procurement process for personal or political gain threatens the public’s confidence in its government. The public demands trust and the decisions made by county officials and department heads should validate that trust. Most of the procurement statutes and county procurement policies are in place to ensure that our purchasing practices are fair, open, and accountable. The actions of the procurement process are open to public scrutiny, and the public expects that those actions be performed with integrity where its tax dollars are at stake.
Spending taxpayers’ money requires that all goods and services purchased by county government must be purchased in a fair and equitable manner. Responsible bidders must be given a fair opportunity to compete for the county’s business. It is imperative that those who participate in the procurement process perform with a high standard of professional ethics. This applies to the county officials, department heads, and employees of county government.
1County Market, Texas Association of Counties, Austin, TX, 1, March, 2005.