Purchasing Goods, Equipment, Materials, and Supplies
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 (see below). Other agencies have no statutory requirements and may set their own thresholds and processes through policy.
To see your agency’s specific statutory requirements, use MRSC’s Find Your Contracting Requirements tool.
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, a brief description of the items purchased, and the location where the bid quotations for these contracts are available for public inspection (RCW 39.04.200).
To see if your agency is eligible to use a vendor list, use MRSC's Find Your Contracting Requirements tool.
MRSC provides its own roster service for local governments across Washington, connecting hundreds of local governments to thousands of vendors for purchases, as well as public works and consulting services. To sign up or learn more, visit MRSC Rosters.
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.
Electronic Data Processing and Telecommunications
When purchasing electronic data processing or telecommunication equipment, software, or services to support internal administrative functions, most local governments have two basic options:
- Acquire the equipment or services as you would any other equipment, services, or work.
- Use a competitive negotiation process under RCW 39.04.270 and award the contract to the bidder whose proposal is "most advantageous" as described below.
RCW 39.04.270 allows municipalities (defined broadly in RCW 39.04.010 to include all local governments except various diking/drainage/irrigation districts) to acquire electronic data processing or telecommunications equipment, software, or services through competitive negotiation instead of the normal competitive bidding requirements.
The statute does not specifically define "electronic data processing or telecommunications equipment, software, or services," although the original bill reports reference "computer or telecommunications systems." Based on similar definitions of telecommunications and software found elsewhere in state law (such as RCW 19.28.400, RCW 80.04.010, and RCW 84.04.150), this would likely include things such as computer hardware, custom or off-the-shelf software, telephone, voice, Internet, data, video, and audio systems.
This competitive negotiation 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 (documented) 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 with price and other factors considered. It does not necessarily have to be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, depending on the other non-price factors.
- The agency may reject any or all proposals for good cause and request new proposals.
- The agency should document its evaluation process and retain it for audit purposes.
Equipment Purchase vs. Installation. RCW 39.04.270 authorizes the competitive negotiation process for the "acquisition" of electronic data processing or telecommunications "equipment, software, or services." This likely includes installation services too, since installation may require specialized knowledge of the systems. This means that installation would not have to be bid separately from the equipment purchase.
However, any installations meeting the definition of a "public work" in RCW 39.04.010 would still be subject to any other public works contracting requirements such as prevailing wages, bonds, retainage, and bidder responsibility criteria.
Examples of Competitive Negotiation RFPs
- Anacortes Library RFID Equipment RFP (2019) – Vendor to supply and install radio frequency identification (RFID) equipment at city library
- Benton County Data/Telecommunications Network Improvements RFP (2019) – Electronic data processing and telecommunications equipment needed to improve the county’s internet, data, and voice networks
- Kelso Permitting and Code Enforcement Software RFP (2020) – Online software permitting system for building, land use, engineering, and code enforcement
- Lewis County Computerized Jail Video Visitation and Arraignment Network System RFQ (2012) – Second RFQ for jail video visitation and arraignment software, hardware, and consulting services
- Maple Valley Website Design, Development & Hosting RFP (2022) – Website design, migration, hosting, and related services
- Port of Bellingham Lease Accounting Software RFP (2022) – GASB 87 lease accounting software
- Spokane Valley Fire Department Technology and Communication System RFP (2021) – Fire protection district seeking turnkey technology and communication system
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.
Intergovernmental Purchases or "Piggybacking"
Under Chapter 39.34 RCW, local government agencies may make purchases using another agency’s purchasing contract, a process known as “piggybacking.” Generally, smaller agencies piggyback on contracts awarded by larger “host” agencies, allowing the smaller agencies to save time and obtain better prices and terms than they might be able to on their own.
For more details, see our page on Intergovernmental Procurement and 'Piggybacking.'
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:
Vendor List Applications
- Covington Water District Vendor List Application (2008)
- Ferry County Vendor List Application (2010)
- Kennewick Irrigation District Vendor List Application – Online application form
- Yakima County Fire District No. 4 Vendor List Application (2016)
MRSC Rosters Procedures
- MRSC Rosters - Shared small public works roster, consultant roster, and vendor list that all local agencies in Washington are eligible to join; includes sample resolution for public agencies
Other Vendor List Procedures
- Birch Bay Water and Sewer District Vendor List Procedures (2011)
- Hartstene Point Water and Sewer District Small Works, Small Purchase, and Telecommunications Purchase Procedures (2009)
- Kittitas County Small Works and Small Purchase Roster Procedures (2017)
- Kittitas County Public Utility District No. 1 Vendor List Policy (2014)
- Mesa Vendor List and Small Works Roster Procedures (2014)
- Millwood Small Purchase and Vendor List Procedures (2012)
Invitations to Bid
- Everett Request for Quotes for Gas Powered Riding Tee Mower (2001)
- Lewis County Fire Protection District No. 6 Invitation to Bid for One 2,000 Gallon Tender (2015)
- Okanogan County PUD Invitation and Instructions to Bidders, Bid and Contract Forms and Specifications for Network Equipment Procurement Bid (2011)
- Lakewood Water District Invitation to Bid for Mini-Excavator (2015)