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OIG Bulletin, November 2020: A Closer Look at the Supplies and Services Contracting Class

The following is an interview with Jonathan Simon, the Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) Associate Counsel for Professional Training and an instructor in the MCPPO program’s Supplies and Services Contracting class since August 2019. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Table of Contents

Supplies and Services Contracting Class Topics

OIG Bulletin: What is the Supplies and Services Contracting class?

Jonathan Simon: The Supplies and Services Contracting class is one of the three core classes required for an MCPPO designation. [An MCPPO designation is an OIG-issued credential recognizing that an individual has the experience and education necessary for a particular procurement field.]

The first core class is Public Contracting Overview, which is a broad overview of everything involved in procurement. It’s like your 101-level introductory class, and it touches on a lot over the course of three days. Supplies and Services Contracting, as its name says, digs more deeply into the process of procuring supplies and services under Chapter 30B [the Massachusetts Uniform Procurement Act, M.G.L. c. 30B, §§ 1-23]. This class also covers the bulk of what many procurement professionals do. They are buying goods and supplies, they are procuring non-construction-related services and all of that comes under Chapter 30B.

But it’s not just a class about following the steps in Chapter 30B; it’s also about the best way to go about a supply or service procurement, even when the law is silent or a bit vague. And while we teach legal requirements, we also talk a lot about best practices, including how to stay organized.

If you administer a contract correctly, then the next procurement will be easier because you’ve been there and you’ve done that. You’ve got records, you’re familiar with the vendors and you know how to develop and improve your specifications and quality requirements.

So the next time you need to hire a vendor, if you’ve been following some of the best practices we teach, you’re going to do a bit better. That’s why I think this class is not only really important by itself but also within the context of the MCPPO designation.

OIG Bulletin: Why do you think it’s becoming more important for municipalities to ensure that employees obtain their MCPPO designation?

Jonathan Simon: Municipal leaders want to make sure that their jurisdictions conduct procurements correctly. They want to do right by their cities and towns, and I think that the MCPPO designation helps them do that. Procurement professionals also want to get things right and avoid rebidding, because that’s time and money for the jurisdiction. That’s why public employees often call us to make sure they are following the law. [The OIG has a hotline for Chapter 30B questions: (617) 722-8838.]

Another reason is that the law changes. We had a pretty significant change to the Chapter 30B procurement thresholds in 2016. [The thresholds are the monetary levels below or above which Chapter 30B requires certain procurement steps.] Sometimes we hear references to old thresholds in calls to our Chapter 30B hotline. With those calls, we often discover that no one on staff in that jurisdiction has an MCPPO designation, or maybe one person has a designation that’s become outdated.

This is why it can be really helpful to renew your MCPPO designation – to get up to speed on the latest changes and case law. There’s always new guidance coming out in the supplies and services world, as well as changes to the law and agency or court decisions that affect procurement and contracting. This makes it worthwhile for even experienced procurement professionals to get their designations renewed.

OIG Bulletin: What specific things do people learn from the Supplies and Services Contracting class?

Jonathan Simon: We definitely get into some of the frequently-asked question subjects like sole-source procurements. [A sole-source procurement is a purchase of supplies or services without advertising or competition. Chapter 30B places strict limitations on sole-source procurements.] It’s an area where we get plenty of questions, and people are sometimes unsure about how they are supposed to be conducting them.

Another important area is multi-year contracts. Jurisdictions put out IFBs [invitations for bids] with renewal clauses and all sorts of different requirements regarding the term length of the contract. Because of that, we have a whole module in our self-paced Supplies and Services Contracting class dedicated to multi-year and long-term contracts, just to give people an idea of how to structure those contracts.

OIG Bulletin: How has MCPPO responded to the pandemic?

Jonathan Simon: Before the pandemic, we had started to put together a couple of online MCPPO classes using Blackboard, a platform used by a lot of educational institutions for online learning. Then the pandemic hit, which meant that we had to marshal our resources to make the whole program available online – and we did it! So now we have Public Contracting Overview, Supplies and Services Contracting and a number of other classes online. And we’ve been able to do a number of trainings individualized for particular jurisdictions as well.

Also related to COVID, we’ve reminded people that Chapter 30B is not suspended, that poor planning still does not an emergency make, that Chapter 30B has provisions for emergencies, that emergency procurements must be limited to what is necessary to meet the emergency and that jurisdictions must document emergency procurements and publish them in the Goods and Services Bulletin  [published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth]. We’ve also discussed with jurisdictions how to conduct virtual openings to meet the public opening requirements for bids.

OIG Bulletin: What is your background?

Jonathan Simon: I’m a lawyer. I practiced law as a prosecutor, and then I taught high school for sixteen years. I was the teacher’s union head too for eight of those years, so I did a lot of contract work and contract enforcement. I was also familiar with the procurement process on a municipal level and had exposure to the stakeholders involved and how the budgeting process works.

This experience, combined with my legal background, allowed me to get up to speed quickly in terms of teaching the Supplies and Services Contracting class when I joined the OIG. It gives me a frame of reference and context for the application of what we teach as well. I think that my experience also helps me relate to our students, because we have a lot of school procurement and town procurement employees in our classes.

OIG Bulletin: What have you learned from teaching the Supplies and Services Contracting class?

Jonathan Simon: You realize that it can be difficult for municipal employees out there. They have a lot of people they have to answer to. If I’m a town administrator, I have to answer to the board of selectmen or the mayor, I’ve got to deal with finance committees, I’ve got to deal with residents and parents, and then throw the vendors in the mix. It can be really challenging for them.

At the end of the day, they need to deliver the supply or service that the town needs and that the people need, and they’re trying to balance all of these competing interests while trying to comply with the law,  so it can be really stressful. We keep that in mind when they call or come to our classes. The OIG’s educational role is to help rather than hinder or judge or anything like that. We understand that municipal employees are under budgetary constraints, and now they’re under COVID constraints, so it’s up to us to help them navigate those forces instead of just becoming another headache.

The MCPPO program will offer three Supplies and Services Contracting classes in the spring of 2021.

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Date published: November 23, 2020
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