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Politics & Government

City Budget Director Calls Purchasing Policy 'A Mystery,' Plans to Retool Process

With the help of Code for America fellows and a consultant from the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing, or NIGP, the city is set to review the policies that govern how the city purchases everything from software to road salt to architectural services.

According to Pittsburgh Budget Director Sam Ashbaugh, the current protocol is murky.

“I think it’s a mystery,” Ashbaugh said. “I’m in charge of procurement, and one of the things that I think you have is that things have crept up over the years, like ‘This is the way we’ve always done things.’ We still do things in a very manual way in some areas.”

One of the problems, Ashbaugh said, is that there’s no one place where all the city’s procurement and purchasing policies are aggregated.

“The policies and procedures are in a variety of formats,” Ashbaugh said. “You have the home rule charter, you have city code, you have any documented policies that we may have. We don’t actually have a formal procurement manual right now.”

He said that makes it difficult for city employees who need to make purchases and for companies that want to do business with the city.

Ashbaugh said crafting effective purchasing policies requires a delicate balance.

“You need to have good policies and procedures in place, but you don’t want to make it so onerous that the system breaks down,” Ashbaugh said. “So what we want to do is lift the hood open, look under it, see how we’re doing things today. What are we doing that doesn’t make sense?”

Ashbaugh said the city spends approximately $50 million in operating funds on goods and services each year, and millions more in capital funds, which fluctuates from year to year.

A bill to approve an expenditure of $55,605 to hire the NIGP consultant was introduced in City Council this week.