The new federal procurement standards significantly alter the way not-for-profits handle purchasing. And while most organizations have already changed their written policies to comply with the new standards, you may find it easier to follow the rules on paper than in practice.
Summing up the standards
The standards, included in the new Uniform Guidance, impose strict requirements on not-for-profits receiving federal funds. The guidance, “Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards,” which takes effect for fiscal years starting in 2017, can be found at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/12/26/2013-30465/uniform-administrative-requirements-cost-principles-and-audit-requirements-for-federal-awards. The procurement portion of the standards is effective for years starting after December 26, 2016.
For purchases exceeding $150,000, you must select vendors or suppliers based on publicly solicited sealed bids or competitive proposals. (Sealed bids are preferred for construction contracts.) You must select the lowest bid or the proposal most advantageous to the relevant program based on price and other factors that impact the program performance. You also must perform a cost or price analysis for every purchase more than $150,000, to make independent estimates before receiving bids or proposals.
Noncompetitive proposals solicited from a single source are permissible in only limited circumstances — for example, when a public emergency won’t allow the delay associated with competitive solicitation.
The new standards require procurement procedures documented in writing. Conflict of interest policies must be included covering employees involved in procurement as well as all entities owned by or considered “related” to the organization. You also must keep records detailing each procurement, including bids solicited, selection criteria, quotes from vendors and the final contract price. Designing a checklist that outlines the decisions needed at each price level will make the process more manageable, as will keeping the required documentation.
Clearing hurdles to compliance
By now, most nonprofits are already into their 2017 fiscal years and should already be in compliance with the new standards, although some have found it to be a struggle. Significant barriers to full compliance include:
Culture shock. Not-for-profit organizations, like for-profit companies, often have selected their suppliers and contractors based on historical performance and personal relationships. But the new standards don’t consider those to be good reasons. As a result, not-for-profits must adopt an entirely new mindset — no small task for any organization! It calls for multiple rounds of staff training and visible buy-in from the highest levels of management.
Staff resistance. It can take longer for the frontline staff to adapt to a new approach than management. Even if they’re willing to change, they may need some time to break old habits. You might consider including compliance with the new procedures as part of their performance evaluations.
Documentation overload. The new standards come with a boatload of documentation requirements that few organizations previously met. New policies and even checklists won’t ensure compliance with these demands.
Better safe than sorryWhile real, these barriers can — and must — be overcome. Failure to comply with the procurement standards could result in your nonprofit’s loss of federal funding. You can reduce that risk, though, by auditing your new procedures and processes to confirm that they’re getting the job done. If you need assistance, our knowledgeable NFP professionals can help.
Meet some of our professionals and learn exciting new not-for-profit topics at our FREE continuing education breakfast in Fort Worth.