The procurement of goods and services is a key function in any county government organization. Virtually everything a county department does depends, to a greater or lesser degree, upon “things.” Every county department uses supplies, equipment, and furniture. Every employee gets a paycheck someone must procure blank checks, the computer system, the toner and paper for the printer, etc. Highway departments need vehicles and equipment, maintenance departments need building materials and janitorial supplies, and the list goes on and on. In short, the purchasing function, directly or indirectly, touches every aspect of county operations.
Citizens unfamiliar to the county purchasing laws and requirements sometimes mistakenly believe that county purchasing is no different from consumer shopping. Actually, however, many purchases made by county governments are of a complex nature (e.g., numerous purchasing laws, complex specifications, etc.), and must be made in accordance with applicable laws or private acts. County officials, department heads, and employees cannot simply go out and buy whatever they want from whomever they please without potentially violating a law or a county purchasing policy.
County purchasing is also different from purchasing in the private sector. While some of the procurement techniques are fundamentally the same for both (a county with a centralized purchasing system is very similar to private sector purchasing), the significant difference is that public sector purchases are made with taxpayer dollars, not individual profits.1Thus, county procurement is subject to tighter regulations, more intensive scrutiny, and a greater degree of accountability than private sector purchasing. Here are some similarities and differences between the private sector purchasing and county purchasing:
1Larry N. Wellman, CPPO, Centralization of the Procurement Function, NIGP Technical Bulletin, 1.