Guidelines and regulations are the central pillar around which modern public sector procurement is constructed. They help weed out bias and corruption and ensure a fair process. But these guidelines and regulations vary from state to state, and COVID is causing some states to have to adjust. In New Jersey, eProcurement is a logical step for safer public bid openings for example, but regulations have to adapt.
Even before the Coronavirus outbreak changed every facet of the way we live and work, eProcurement was on the rise. Agencies seeking efficiency and lower costs, greater supplier participation, and a way to go green have found success with eProcurement.
Previous New Jersey eProcurement Guidelines
In New Jersey, eProcurement adoption was further enabled by new regulations put into place in October 2019. These regulations set a “minimum standard” to be met by eProcurement providers to “provide for the integrity and procedural protections of sealed public bidding and competitive contracting in an online environment.”
Some minimum standards for eProcurement providers working in New Jersey include (among other points seen in the above linked document):
- Detailed online instructions on how to use the platform.
- A supplier registration system to confirm the identity of bidders.
- The ability to upload and save any documents required by New Jersey law and prompt bidders when those documents have not been included.
- Timestamping and logging of all actions on the platform, including IP address.
- The capacity for Q&A
- The ability for the agency to extend submission deadlines
- The ability for the agency to see which suppliers have engaged with the solicitation, and to see bids after the deadline has passed.
- Distinct accounts for agency staff with distinct digital security systems in place (role assignment and automatic logout).
- Web-based, email, and phone support for suppliers.
- Online trainings and tutorials.
- The ability to submit complaints, logged in the system.
- The ability of the purchasing agency to download and print offers, tabulate offers into a spreadsheet, publish results and contract awards online.
100% Digital Procurement – Online Openings
But even for states that have guidelines in place to enable digital transformation, COVID has necessitated greater change.
As of May 21st, 2020, New Jersey adopted emergency rules impacting procurement and eProcurement. This emergency adoption re-enforces the above linked and mentioned guidelines, but goes further still. It also puts into place guidelines for public bid openings, in the era of social distancing.
Namely, the emergency guidelines explicitly require the use of web conferencing tools for public bid openings:
The contracting unit (agency) shall use web-conference call or online livestreaming technology with both video and audio capability, with the video showing sufficient scope and coverage so that the official opening the bids can be clearly seen to be opening only the bids timely submitted.
After the Virus, What Comes Next?
We’ve seen similar adjustments in other states, like Florida, where restrictions dictated by the state’s sunshine laws have been eased. In the case of New Jersey, these emergency guidelines are only in place through July 20th, 2020. But they are also being proposed for permanent adoption through the normal “rule making” process.
What all of us are curious to see is how emergency adjustments to rules and guidelines around the country shift the landscape. eProcurement saves local businesses money on transit costs, printing, shipping and more. With regulations that have, in the past, stymied 100% digitization being lifted, we may be on the cusp of a dramatic shift towards eProcurement around the country.