top of page

MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

THE EVOLVING WORLD OF PROCUREMENT: "ADDING SPICE TO THE STEW"

In the 30 years that we’ve been researching and writing about state and local government management, there are few fields that have changed as much as procurement. In the old days, agencies tended to think of their purchasing and contracting offices in much the same way as they did of human resources. It was the department that had the job of saying “no.” The emphasis in government procurement was often on compliance and control with employees entering the field more by accident than with a professional commitment to build a career.


But in more recent years, while there’s variation between governments, the procurement function has frequently leapt out of the back office and is increasingly understood as a strategic partner that plays a pivotal role in helping agencies accomplish their missions. 


A look at the 2024 priorities of the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO) shows the many elements that continue to drive change (see chart). With these in mind, we turned to David Gragan, Chief Administrative and Strategic Operations Officer of NASPO to talk about the future of procurement, particularly the kind of people who will thrive in that field while helping the field itself to thrive. 



Gragan started inside the public sector procurement profession around the time that we started watching it. From 1993 on, he has observed procurement from the inside while serving in top positions in Indiana, Texas, D.C and the federal government, with a nearly eight-year stint between 1999 and 2007 in the private sector.


He talks about the “magic balance” that is needed in a field that must protect public dollars while also making sure that agencies get what they need to succeed. To achieve that balance requires not just a transformation in the nature of the job, but in the workforce itself. “We need to hire people who are a little more extroverted. We’re functional teammates of everyone one in state service, but we’re frequently not very good advocates for our own profession. We don’t really come out of our closet often enough. We continue to remain behind the veil.”


While Gragan sees a clear place for heads-down introverted workers who may have been attracted to the field in the past, he is determined to build the profile of the field. “It’s still hard to recruit people into this profession because not enough people know what it is we do.”


What are the qualities he’d most like to see in an ever-evolving procurement staff and in tomorrow’s future leaders?


  • Good communication skills. That includes the ability to “purposefully listen” and to translate the complex terms of the profession to other public servants rather than expecting them to interpret the jargon themselves. “We can’t just give our clients a template” and expect they’ll understand the terms,” he says. 

  • Curiosity. “If you’re not curious about the people that we’re serving and the complications of their missions, you’re probably not going to be a good (employee) or procurement director.”

  • Empathy. “We need to be as understanding as we can be of the missions of the Department of Public Safety or what it’s like to be in charge of corrections. We’ll never be experts in public transportation or any of the other agencies we serve, but we need to be respectful of their missions.”

  • The ability to be self-critical. “We need people who are experts in the process, but they have to be wiling to say, ‘What if we try something different.’  I want to be surrounded by people that every single day come to work and know that it can be done better. I don’t want them to become the 30-year employee that just wants to do the same thing they did yesterday.”

  • Commitment to public service. “I think they have to be that ultimate conscientious public servant and never forget that we work for everyone that we pass on the street because everyone we pass on the street is essentially our boss.”


In his view of the changing world of procurement, Gragan would like to see more public administration schools building a procurement curriculum and more and more individuals entering the field not by accident but because that’s what they want to do.  “Every new person you hire is like adding spice to a stew,” he says. “With every new hire, you’re changing a chemical balance and the personality of the workforce, and it becomes hugely important that you hire the soft skills that matter.”


MANAGEMENT UPDATE ARCHIVES.

HOW CITY COUNCILS ARE CHANGING

APRIL EIGHT SOLAR ECLIPSE AN ASTRONOMICAL BOON AND EXPENSE

HANDLING THE NEXT CRISIS LESSONS FROM THE PANDEMIC

MEDICAID MANAGED CARE CONCERNS

FOUR GOVERNORS DISCUSS HOW TO DISAGREE BETTER

THE LATEST ABOUT CHIEF PRIVACY OFFICERS

GOOD NEWS FOR GRANT SEEKERS

FILLING THE GAP BETWEEN TECH EXPECTATIONS AND REALITY

bottom of page