A team effort
Responsible for procuring supplies, materials, equipment and services for the county’s department and agency operations, Anne Arundel County’s Purchasing Division has risen to the challenge presented by Covid-19 in 2020 and helped to protect residents and businesses alike
Situated in the heart of Maryland – and home to the state capital of Annapolis – Anne Arundel County is home to more than 500,000 residents. With its rich heritage, close proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and over 533 miles of coastline, Anne Arundel County is also a major hub of commerce and development, with an estimated $35 billion economy.
Since 1964, Anne Arundel County has had a charter form of government in accordance with State law, consisting of both a legislative branch – known as the County Council – and an executive branch that is headed by the County Executive.
The latter consists of a number of County Agencies and Departments, which themselves are supported by a network of Central Services divisions, whose collective goal is to provide the services and support needed to serve the county’s citizens. One of these is Anne Arundel County’s Purchasing Division.
A centralized agency, the Purchasing Division’s mission is to receive the best prices for the supplies, materials, equipment and services acquired, and it is also responsible for procuring all contracts for construction and consultant services. “Annually, our division procures goods and services totaling around $516 million, and we typically have anywhere from 100 to 200 active procurements ongoing across our team at any one time,” explains Anne Arundel County Purchasing Agent, Andrew Hime, CPSM. “Between us, our team of 26 staff – 18 of whom are primarily focused on active procurements – procure literally everything from pens, pencils and other stationery, to construction and building materials, and even helicopters. It is truly an all-encompassing list of goods and services that we pursue.”
All purchases of goods and services are made in accordance with the rules and regulations as specified within the Anne Arundel County Code and the terms outlined in its Purchasing Manual. Purchases up to $5000 require only a single quotation, while those up to $50,000 need three quotations confirmed in writing. Finally, purchases over $50,000 are to made following formal public solicitation.
Over the last several years, Andrew has helped to oversee the county’s Purchasing Division’s efforts to better streamline its operations in order to create added value. As part of this program of procurement reform, the division was tasked with achieving savings of $20 million within a five-year period, something which it managed to achieve ahead of time. Indeed, four-and-a-half years into this initiative, it is already tracking savings in excess of $22 million. This has been made possible through a number of key decisions taken, not least of all being the making of the procurement process fully digital in 2019.
“One of the key factors in bringing about the above has been our incorporation of leading practices from the commercial world into the public-sector procurement space, and applying these while adhering to the laws, rules and compliance regulations that exist therein,” Andrew continues. “For instance, we utilized elements from a number of European models in how we structured our category management framework and our team’s organization, as we found Europe to be very successful in implementing strategic procurement initiatives in the public-sector. So, one of the things I did when I came on-board was to hire a dedicated procurement Strategy Manager, as well as a procurement Category Management Manager to lead those critical operational requirements and to help develop our reform efforts. These roles are today held by Diana Cox and Dale Eutsler, respectively.”
The efforts of Anne Arundel County’s Purchasing Division come into particular focus when we turn our attentions to its response to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. As Dale reveals, Andrew was somewhat ahead of the curve in considering the efforts that the division would perhaps have to make in light of this immense challenge. “Our initial conversations about Covid-19 actually took place back in January of 2020, with the issue coming into much starker focus in February,” he says. “It was then that I attended a conference in Dallas, Texas, for public and private partnerships, and it was clear from speaking with people there that this was a serious, global issue that we needed to get on top of, and Andrew was well aware of that. Indeed, he does a fantastic job of being aware of current events going on around the world, and that was one of the big things that allowed us to be best positioned to reach quickly and creatively in our response to Covid-19.”
As Andrew goes on to expand upon, utilizing creative procurement solutions has been absolutely vital in ensuring that Anne Arundel County was as well prepared for the virus as possible. “Covid-19 has really put into perspective how important it is to embrace creative procurement solutions in order to source products that are in immense demand, and have them delivered to those that need them,” he affirms. “By working throughout the supply chain – from cradle to grave – and having people actually on the ground, we are able to identify where supply is going to be prevalent and able to be distributed.”
Additionally, as the pandemic expanded drastically in March 2020, Andrew coordinated with the County’s P-Card Program provider J.P. Morgan to leverage the reliable County payment method as a way to expedite payment for lifesaving PPE equipment. Through the quick action of J.P. Morgan Commercial Banking, the County was able to increase program credit limits and get new cards issued for key purchasing personnel. According to Andrew; “In a time period where priority number one was to secure PPE, using our P-Card as a payment method verses a standard Purchase Order reduced the average payment cycle time from several days to a few hours. This was, and remains, a solid tool in our tool belt as we work through the pandemic.”
A few additional examples of the above come in the form of the Purchasing Divisions’ ability to source much sought after emergence response commodities, namely hand sanitizer, sanitizer pumps and face masks. “At the onset of the pandemic, we saw news reports on local distilleries in cities like Seattle that had pivoted their business in order to supply hand sanitizer when demand began to outstrip supply,” Andrew says. “This got me thinking, and it was around this time that I called up a local business called Gray Wolf Distillery to enquire as to whether this was something they would be prepared to do. Working also alongside the Maryland Distillers Guild – which coordinated local efforts for us – Gray Wolf Distillery set about producing hand sanitizer which we were able to source and distribute quickly throughout the county.”
Additionally, the County was able to replicate the supply of hand sanitizer with a personal care and cosmetic manufacturer, C-Care in Linthicum, Maryland. C-Care pivoted its general manufacturing operation and worked collaboratively with the County to source raw materials for making hand sanitizer, and even sourced smaller sized bottles for easy to transport pump stations.
“To support this rapid distribution, we were also able to source universal hand sanitation pumps from a company called Granger,” Dale adds. “Working with them resulted in a big process improvement, as we had found previously that around 80 per cent of the existing hand sanitation stations in the county were made by one proprietary manufacturer. The use of universal pumps also then meant that we could confidently go out and purchase hand sanitizer through multiple suppliers.”
When it came to the procurement of N95 face masks, again it required a creative and collaborative approach in order to source the supplies the county required in relatively short order. “For our procurement of masks, we had to take a diversified supplier approach, speaking with those we knew to see if they had contacts that could assist in the sourcing and delivery of N95 masks,” Andrew states. “It was through this that we were able to call on the support of valued partners like Ryan Millman and organizations such as Undigital to navigate the various hurdles we needed to overcome in order to get product out of markets such as China faster than anyone else.
“On a domestic front, we had two of our larger suppliers who consistently came through for us when supplies were scarce. Safeware has been, and remains, a key supplier for our front line operational needs of this pandemic. They continue to expend extra efforts day-in and day-out to provide insight on what we may be needing next. Additionally, Home Depot has also been extremely helpful in supporting our needs for cleaning products. As the EPA released new versions of the approved list of cleaning products that killed Covid-19, those products became difficult to source. When nobody could find regularly priced cleaning wipes, and resellers were trying to price over single cans of wipes, Home Depot came through for us with a truckload of cleaning spray and several pallets of paper towels.”
“If 2020 and Covid-19 has taught us anything it is of the importance of supply chain diversification,” Dale proclaims. “Yes, you will always need to have close, collaborative relationships with your largest suppliers who have huge catalogues, but you also need to know who your local and regional companies are who are going to be there for you and are able to perform reliably. In my opinion, this level of diversity within the supply chain is going to be all the more important in the future.”
What Andrew is also determined to convey is how tremendous a job the team at Anne Arundel County’s Purchasing Division has done in working through the unique challenge that Covid-19 has presented. “If you look at where we are as a county compared to some other jurisdictions, where they continue to have supply issues with PPE and the like, it is testament to the hard work, long days, sleepless nights and weekends that our people have put in for the benefit of Anne Arundel County and its residents.”
As Andrew rightly points out, it has clearly been a monumental team effort to achieve all that the Purchasing Division has done to date. One of those at the heart of said efforts has been Manager/Administrator Chanell Clemons. Among her various responsibilities, she assisted in supporting the initiative to procure life-saving PPE products, and therefore she is as best placed as anyone to speak of the strengths that the Purchasing Division has called upon in recent months. “In addition to our ability to work together as one strong team, we have been able to successfully use different methods of communication to collaborate and coordinate with numerous different vendors and suppliers, in order to identify and respond to both immediate and long-term procurement needs that are critical to our mission of slowing the spread of Covid-19,” Chanell says.
As Chanell goes on to correctly point out; “We are still in the midst of the pandemic, so we continue to work hard on a daily basis, but it has been extremely gratifying and rewarding to have played a major role to date in procuring the supplies needed to save lives and protect the people of our great county.”
Turning to one final point, this time on the future of procurement, Andrew points out that he believes that the world is now entering what he calls, a ‘golden age’ of procurement. “Procurement as a whole has really transformed over the last ten years or more, and has become such a vital tool in ensuring that operations run smoothly,” he says. “I believe that we are entering ma stage where it is so critical that people understand the complexity of supply chain management, the project management components that are required for that, and also the various financial aspects as well. Those are the things I focus on with my team, and I think the skill set of people in this industry is really growing at pace. It also means that as time goes by these people will grow in value as individuals, and that will only be a good thing for organizations and divisions such as our own.”
Anne Arundel County Purchasing Division
Services: Procurement for Anne Arundel County