County’s Contracting Process Gets Scrutinized

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A recent audit, subcommittee and grand jury report are all shining a light on how county government contracts, which account for roughly $3 billion in public spending each year, are handled.

In a new report, the county’s performance auditor says the county should boost its use of the statewide Cal-Card credit card system, implement better computer systems for procurement and update its contracting manual every two years instead of five.

Performance Auditor Philip Cheng also recommended that county leaders create a comprehensive procurement manual and do a better job of enforcing their certification requirements for purchasing officials.

(Click here to read the full audit.)

A subcommittee of county supervisors – Todd Spitzer and Janet Nguyen – is also looking at procurement issues, and presented a round of recommendations to the full board this week.

Those suggestions include setting up regular reviews of county contracts and requiring more detailing information about what specific services are provided, who will receive services and why the services are needed.

(Click here to read the subcommittee’s recommendations.)

Additionally, the county’s grand jury also took an in-depth look at the county’s contracting process, issuing a report on Monday that urged officials to rethink their approach to purchasing.

In particular, the panel focused on a need for the county to re-centralize its contracting efforts, which it said would “reduce the fragmentation, inconsistency, and inequality that currently exist.”

Contracting staffers aren’t “given focused and thorough training designed to present topics in project management, contract administration, and risk assessment,” the report states.

“In addition, there is an absence of objectives designed to enhance personal expertise, productivity, and effectiveness.”

Grand jurors did credit county officials for their implementation of a contract policy manual. At the same time, jurors said the manual lacks “specialized training courses, complete planning calendars, an extensive catalogue of procedural standards, and occupational proficiencies.”

The manual is also missing “a summary for development of all contracting and procurement personnel, with broadened curricula, sample standard documents, and added seminars and workshops,” the report states.

Additionally, grand jurors said some county departments “assign staff members to perform contracting or procurement tasks that are unrelated to their regular roles. Such fragmented assignments present negative impacts to accuracy and productivity as a result.”

As for recommendations, grand jurors said the county should create a re-centralization strategy for most departments and timeline to implement it.

County leaders should also update their contract policy manual to cover several new areas, including an ethics guide and contracting best practices, grand jurors said.

The CEO’s office should expand its training for contracting and procurement staff, the panel added, including longer sessions that take place more frequently.

Lastly, jurors said county leaders should make sure that the staffers who oversee contracting and procurement at various departments “should focus primarily, if not exclusively” on those responsibilities.

(Click here to read the full grand jury report.)

The county government spends more than $3 billion on contracts and other procurements each year, according to the grand jury.

Responses to the report are required within 90 days from various county officials, including the Board of Supervisors, county purchasing agent, information technology chief, health care agency, community resources and public works.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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