Making it easier to do business with King County Procurement reforms

king-countyAs the 14th largest county in America with an annual budget of $5.3 billion, King County, Washington has always been a major business generator for businesses of all sizes in our region. But some local business owners, especially small, minority and women-owned enterprises, have struggled to access county contracting opportunities, and have found the process overly-complex and difficult to understand.

For many of these business owners, they find navigating the public contracting process not worth the hassle, despite the lucrative opportunities. That’s changed significantly according to a new report showing that two years of procurement reforms are making it easier for small firms to do business with the County.

“Two years ago when Executive Constantine asked us to take a closer look at our data, it was clear that many solid, local companies were not taking advantage of the contracts we had available,” said King County Procurement & Contract Services Section Interim Manager Wendy Keller. “When we asked why, they said, ‘It takes too long to get into and through the system and that affects our ability to bid for and schedule jobs, and to manage our staffing resources on multiple projects.’ This was especially true for smaller companies.

The focus on procurement improvement was an essential part of a reform agenda for county government that King County Executive Dow Constantine started when he took office. Aimed at changing the way King County does business as a whole, it included the launch of his Procurement Reform Initiative to make it easier for vendors and contractors to do business with the County.

The intensive reform effort looked for ways to improve efficiency and equity results in contracting and one of the early successes was the elimination of 15 pages of redundant forms from standard contracts. Staff also updated and streamlined an online vendor registration system to make it easier for contractors to find and apply for contracting opportunities.

Over two years, the changes have helped reduce the cycle time – or how long it takes to apply for and receive a decision on a contract – by 50% for A&E/professional and construction contracts. The reforms have also resulted in an 89% increase in the number of construction contract awards to small contractor and supplier (SCS) firms – 102 awards in 2011 compared to 54 in 2010. The value of the contracts issued to SCS firms also increased, up 42% from $23.3 million in 2010 to $33.2 million in 2011.

After years of being seen as difficult to work with, King County is now leading the way in improving efficiency, equity, cycle time, and cost savings, as well as increasing small business contracting opportunities. Most importantly, the improvements all align with the county strategic plan goals of service excellence, economic growth, and financial stewardship – areas of focus that residents, councilmembers, staff, and other community stakeholders agreed were the county’s top priorities for the next five years.

Another focus of Executive Constantine’s reform agenda is improved regional collaboration. He saw a way to apply this focus to the procurement reform effort by partnering with the Port of Seattle and Sound Transit to establish a regional certification program for small contractors and suppliers. The County’s new regional certification service  uses a single application and common standards to determine the eligibility of a business to compete as an SCS-certified firm for public contracts with all three jurisdictions.

To be eligible as an  SCS-certified firm, a business must be at or below 50% of the United States Small Business Administration standards for size and the personal net worth of each owner cannot exceed $750,000. In addition, the business must also agree to participate in 15 hours of business training within the first year of program certification. For more information about the Small Contractor and Supplier certification program, visit

“We have made progress on streamlining our procurement processes, but we won’t stop,” Constantine said. “King County will continue to look for ways to deliver excellent customer service, build a vibrant local economy, and be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Equity results

  • Signed agreements with Port of
    Seattle and Sound Transit for regional SCS certification program
  • Increased total number of certified Small Contractor & Supplier (SCS) firms
  • Doubled value for new work order contracts to $1.25 million & increased SCS participation to 8.75%
  • Exceeded Minority/Women Business Enterprise voluntary goals in 40% of awarded construction contracts
  • Increasing M/WBE voluntary participation in county construction projects
  • Launched 50 job order contracting (JOC) jobs, creating $1.1 million in subcontracted work
  • Passed Council ordinance creating Small Business Accelerator, assisted by Civil Rights Commission

2012 and Beyond

  • Expand Regional SCS Certification
  • Implement Small Business Accelerator
  • Increase Job Order Contract Projects
  • Performance-based subcontracting for Work Order Contracts
  • Increase use of SCS and MBE/WBE Subcontractors
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