This page provides a general overview of topics related to local government purchasing in Washington State, including vendor lists, purchase orders, and telecommunications purchases. It is part of MRSC’s series on Purchasing and Contracting.
What is Purchasing?
Purchasing refers to the buying of goods, equipment, materials, and supplies, as long as that purchase is not made in connection with a public works project. If the purchase is made in connection with a public works project, it must follow public works bidding requirements.
The rules regarding purchases of equipment, materials, and supplies vary depending on the type and size of agency. Some agencies have statutory restrictions, including bid limits above which a formal competitive process must be used, and many are authorized to use an informal vendor list process. Other agencies have no statutory requirements and may set their own thresholds and processes through policy.
Below an agency’s bid limits, competitive bidding is not required. There is no requirement to seek multiple quotes, but most agencies do so anyway, down to some practical limit established in their policies. Kirkland, for instance, does not require written quotes for purchases less than $7,500, but informal phone quotes are encouraged.
RCW 39.04.190 allows certain agencies to use informal vendor lists, instead of formal competitive bidding, to secure quotes and award contracts. A vendor list is a directory, maintained by a local government agency, of vendors who are interested in selling equipment, materials, and supplies to that agency. Agencies may also create multiple vendor lists for different types of products.
Vendor lists may be used up to a certain dollar amount established in each agency’s statutes, and they are less rigorous and restrictive than formal competitive bidding.
The agency must advertise the existence of each vendor list at least twice a year in a newspaper of general circulation and solicit names for the list.
To make a purchase using the vendor list, an agency should secure quotes from at least three of the vendors on the list, if possible, and award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder.
Immediately after awarding the contract, the agency must record all bid quotes it obtained and make them available for public inspection. At least every two months, the agency must post a list of contracts awarded using each list, including the date, the name of the contractor, the amount of the contract, and a brief description of the items purchased.
To see if your agency is eligible to use a vendor list, use MRSC's Find Your Contracting Requirements tool.
Competitive Bidding Exemptions
RCW 39.04.280 exempts some purchases from normal competitive bidding requirements, including:
- Emergency purchases
- Sole source (single supplier) purchases
- Purchases involving special facilities or market conditions
- Purchases of insurance or bonds
For more information, see Competitive Bidding Exemptions.
Telecommunications and Data Processing Purchases
RCW 39.04.270 allows all local governments in Washington to use a competitive negotiation process when purchasing telecommunications and electronic data processing (computer) equipment or software, instead of traditional competitive bidding.
This alternative process requires, at a minimum:
- A request for proposals (RFP) must be published in a newspaper of general circulation at least 13 days before the submission deadline.
- The RFP must be submitted to an adequate number of qualified sources, as determined by the agency, to permit reasonable competition.
- The RFP must identify significant evaluation factors, including price, and their relative importance.
- The agency must provide reasonable procedures for technical evaluation of the proposals, identification of qualified sources, and the selection process for awarding the contract.
- The contract must be awarded to the qualified bidder whose proposal is “most advantageous” to the agency.
- The agency may reject all proposals for good cause and request new proposals.
In cities and some other agencies, a lease of personal (or real) property with an option to purchase may require competitive bids, depending on the type of property involved and its cost. The cost is the total value of the item to be leased, not the yearly lease payment. A lease of property without an option to purchase does not require a call for bids. Counties must lease personal property in accordance with procedures for other purchases.
Most local government agencies use purchase orders to detail the terms of the purchase, including the items sold, the price, the delivery date, and the terms of payment. The supplier typically agrees to deliver purchased items prior to payment, with the purchase order serving as a guarantee of future payment.
Once the agency submits the order, an in-progress purchase is created. The order remains in progress until the ordered items have been delivered.
Shipping and Freight
When purchasing items that will incur freight charges, local governments should request that the items be shipped Free On Board (FOB) Destination, with the freight prepaid. This means that the carrier owns the merchandise until it reaches the agency’s door, and there will not be a separate invoice for freight. If anything happens to the merchandise during shipping, the carrier is responsible for filing the claims.
Having items shipped FOB Origin is not recommended, since the agency would own the merchandise once in transit and would be responsible for filing any claims for damage or losses in transit.
It is the responsibility of the individual who signs the carrier’s delivery receipt to properly receive all cartons they are signing for. Anyone who accepts and signs for the receipt of goods acknowledges that the item was received and accepted as delivered. Whoever accepts the delivery should confirm that it has been delivered to the right location, verify the number of pieces or packages according to the quantities on the slip, and open the packages to verify that the order is correct.
Soliciting a Specific Brand
Local governments may advertise for bids by specifying a particular brand name item as long as the responsible officials have exercised their judgment and determined that a certain brand name is of higher quality or is better suited to the municipality’s needs. There is no requirement that bid specifications naming a particular brand also include a phrase such as “or an equal brand.”
For sample documents related to purchasing, see the following:
For more sample documents regarding purchasing and contracting, see the MRSC Sourcebook.