There's no reason to reinvent the wheel if someone else has already taken the time and effort to specify a product you need. But before you sign anything, make sure you read the contract. The following are three common misconceptions about cooperative purchasing:

Myth #1: If my vendor offers U.S. General Service Administration (GSA) pricing, I can use that in lieu of competitive bidding.

Not necessarily. By law, only federal agencies are allowed to use prices established by GSA (www.gsa.gov).

States can get around that by writing and approving legislation enabling local governments to use GSA prices. About a decade ago, Texas passed legislation that allowed cities and counties to use GSA pricing. But since the law failed to establish a mechanism for actually procuring the products, local governments still had to go through the standard bid process.

Several years later, the legislature developed a state version of federal procurement standards that cities can use to acquire products—if their governing bodies allow it.

Myth #2: My council won't let me use a co-op because it doesn't include local businesses.

Call the co-op and ask that a local dealership or business be added to the list of potential vendors. If the business agrees to the co-op's terms on pricing, delivery, installation, and warranty, it generally will be added to the vendor list via formal contractual assignment.

Myth #3: My sales rep says I can get this product through the local coop, so I'm good to go.

No! The vendor may indeed participate in the local co-op, but your governing body has to take some type of action allowing the department to join the cooperative and purchase through its contracts.

“That's the No. 1 fallacy: that your vendor understands what you need to do to buy through a particular coop,” says Mike Ryan, chief purchasing officer for the city of Plano, Texas. The city is a multiyear recipient of the National Purchasing Institute's (www.npiconnection.org) Achievement of Excellence in Procurement award. “The sales rep isn't purposely misleading you; it's just that he doesn't understand the procedure.

“If you're going to use somebody else's contract to make a purchase, get a copy of the contract to see what the terms and conditions are—because that's what you're going to have to adhere to.” Co-ops are the first source Ryan turns to when public works has money to spend at the end of the fiscal year. Normal processing time runs up to 120 days, so “if you haven't got the specs yet, the first thing I do is look at a co-op so we don't lose the money.”

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