Higher Education Contract Administration

By Tammy Graham posted 08-03-2017 14:45

Hello everyone. 

I work in higher ed in the state of Texas.  My question to you is:  how did you get your campus all on the same page when it comes to contracts, procurement and available funding?  Are you the overall police or do you let the departments worry if they have the funds and have followed the proper purchasing procedures?



02-18-2021 23:32

Normally in higher Ed situations, a distributed contract management system is used with budget related approval workflow built in.  This works very well.  If you need more information, please let me know, I can elaborate.

04-09-2018 17:01

​Ms. Graham,

First rule of contracting: If it isn't in writing, it doesn't exist.  Second rule of contracting: Contracting and fiscal fight like cats in a sack, and no amount of discussion is likely to change that.  (This is more likely WAY down the list of actual contracting rules, including the one about never finding the item you want in a vending machine no matter how well you get along with the vendor, but for the sake of this blog, we'll leave it here...)

Whether contract policing or contract laissez-faire, neither profferred approach will work by itself.  Unless you are the head of the higher ed institution with impressive strong-mayor type powers and policies, trying to be the "contract police" won't work.  Even then, it will cause friction, but it's a lot easier to dictate procurement policy cradle-to-grave from that lofty position than if "University Contract Manager" is on the wall of your cubicle.  Similarly, leaving all your departments to stew in their own juices, and then playing "Audit Gotcha" later when they blow their budgets or can't produce a paper trail will inevitably backfire.  If you aren't Chancellor For Life (and if you are, watch out for your Deputy!), a bit of altruistic Machiavellian persuasion can yield you higher-percentage results.  Here's one version:

Let's assume half your departments have a history of exceeding their fund allotments, while the other half stay within budget, but never turn in the paperwork and ignore the institution's already-established purchasing procedures.  [A second assumption is necessary here: You have been given both some authority and some accountability regarding campus contracting/procurement.]  A mutual matchmaking might be your best bet here, so that both "sides" appear to receive kudos for their positives: The free-spenders get commended for their sterling paperpushing, while the budget-conscious receive recognition as a result of their fiscal responsibility.  There's your carrot.

At this point, you put yourself are in a position to assert control over your sphere of responsibility by applying "best practices" to improve the institution's purchasing procedures.  Both of these groups are considered "stakeholders", regardless of size- if only one department is overbudget, reining them in is still necessary, while establishing spending protocols as required rather than ignorable will benefit the campus as a whole, even if only one department head is ignoring those procedures.  To move them from "passive stakeholders" to "active stakeholders" (those with buy-in), they need a course of action --one which is within your power to direct.  If you are not the chancellor/central power-holder on campus, you are still apparently authorized to assert control over this situation. 

Make a best-practice set of procedures.  Then make it clear that three things are now in effect.  First, you will help anyone who asks by teaching them how to either follow the procedures or track their spending, whichever applies.  Second, money will absolutely not be spent if it is not properly requested using the purchasing procedures you've set out.  Third, even if the proper procedures are followed, the departments have to show that they have money available to spend- you're not a bank, and neither is the institution!

It will take some coaching, some refusals to spend what isn't there or isn't properly requested, and some hardlining as necessary, so make sure you have higher-level backup on these issues. Nothing so thoroughly undermines the contracting process as having the head of an institution say (in a public meeting), "All this isn't really necessary- just buy them the Whatsit!"  So ensure you have buy-in and agreement from the Powers That Be before attempting to enforce the needed procedures.  [This can usually be done by providing them a synopsis of your proposed changes, along with (on the SAME SHEET) a summary of the potential financial benefits.  Everyone likes the idea that they save money by having someone else do a tiny bit of work, or having them do it a little diferently!]