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Purchasing Materials, Equipment, and Supplies

This page provides a general overview of topics related to local government purchases in Washington State, including vendor lists, purchase orders, and telecommunications purchases as well as examples of solicitations and contracts.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Purchasing and Contracting.

What are Materials, Equipment, and Supplies?

Local governments regularly purchase a variety of tangible items for use in their daily operations. These items can be broadly categorized as materials, equipment, and supplies.

Some bid statutes for agencies list materials/supplies and equipment, while others list materials and supplies only. To provide a distinction between materials/supplies and equipment, consider materials and supplies to be the "nuts and bolts" that form part of a finished product, while equipment would be tools or appliances used to carry on work and would not be part of a finished product.

Purchases of materials, equipment, and supplies are often known simply as "purchases." Purchases are distinct from the procurement of services (generally intangible activities) or public works (the improvement of buildings, roads, parks, or any other element of the built environment) and have their own statutory requirements and policy considerations.

However, if a purchase is made in connection with a public works contract, the purchase must follow public works bidding requirements.

In some cases there may be gray areas between purchases and service contracts, in which case the competitive requirements will depend on the specific scope. For instance, if an agency is purchasing a public works vehicle but also requires the vendor to provide limited, one-time training on how to use the vehicle, the contract would likely be considered a purchase since the training services are ancillary to the purchase of the equipment itself. (The agency could potentially negotiate a separate contract for training services with the successful bidder as a condition of award for the initial purchase contract.)

On the other hand, if an agency is seeking an aviation fuel supplier but also requires the supplier to provide customer support, a marketing plan, payment processing systems, or other ongoing support services, the contract would likely be considered a purchased service since the services are more comprehensive in scope and not limited to the provision of fuel.

Statutory Requirements

The rules regarding purchases of materials, equipment, 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.

Small Purchases

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.

Vendor Lists

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 19.28.400RCW 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


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.'

Purchase Orders

Most local government agencies use purchase orders to formalize the terms and conditions of a purchase, including details like item description(s), cost, delivery date, and terms of payment. Once the agency submits the purchase order to the supplier, an in-progress purchase is created.

After receipt of a purchase order, the supplier typically agrees to deliver items prior to payment, with the purchase order serving as a guarantee of future payment. 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.”

Examples of Purchasing Contracts and Solicitations

Below are selected examples of contracts and solicitations for the purchase of materials, equipment, and supplies.

Policies & Procedures

Vendor Lists (Vendor Rosters)

Vendor List Application Forms

Road Equipment, Supplies & Materials

  • Benton County:
    • Magnesium Chloride RFB (2024) – Sealed bids to supply county with approx. 325,000 gallons of magnesium chloride, delivered to five different locations. Includes sample supply contract
    • Road Surfacing Materials RFP (2024) – Sealed bids to supply and deliver hot mix asphalt and other road surfacing materials. County will try to place orders 48 hours before required deliver except in emergencies. 1-year term; includes sample supply contract
  • Cowlitz County:
    • Asphalt Materials ITB (2022) – Sealed bids to supply asphalt materials for pick-up by county. Multiple vendors may be selected; individual orders will be determined by combination of bid prices and travel cost from work area to pick-up point. 1-year contract with two automatic 1-year extensions.
    • Road Sign Materials RFB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply and deliver road signs and sign materials. 1-year contract with two optional 1-year extensions subject to CPI price adjustment; includes estimated annual quantities.
  • Walla Walla Hot Mix Asphalt RFB (2024) – Sealed bids to supply hot mix asphalt for rest of year for pick-up by city. City intends to award two contracts; primary asphalt plant must be located within 15 miles of city, but city reserves right to obtain asphalt from other locations at same price
  • Whatcom County:
    • Asphaltic Emulsion (Road Oil) ITB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply and deliver asphaltic emulsion for use in road maintenance/repair over roughly 6-month period. Includes specifications as well as requirements for Canadian bidders
    • Asphalt Oil Distributor Truck ITB (2022) – Sealed bids for county to purchase asphalt oil distributor/chassis. Successful bidder must sign written agreement to provide training on equipment. Includes detailed specifications; bidders that have not done business with county in past three years must submit references
  • Yakima County:
    • Gravel Road Surface Stabilization RFB (2024) – Sealed bids to supply county with material to use as surface stabilizing agent/dust inhibitor (magnesium chloride or equivalent) on gravel roads, to be delivered over roughly 3 months
    • Snow and Ice Control Products RFB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply county with snow and ice control products for maintaining roads and facilities during 2023-24 winter maintenance season

Rock/Sand/Soil Purchases

  • Sunnyside Maintenance Rock ITB (2021) – Sealed bids for various types of maintenance rock and road sand. Includes required specifications and coloration; 1-year term with two optional 1-year extensions
  • Whatcom County Rock, Gravel, and Soil Supply ITB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply county with rock, gravel, and soil for public works, parks, and other departments as needed. County intends to establish list of suppliers. 1-year term; includes specifications and requirements for Canadian bidders

Gas/Fuel Purchases

  • Anacortes Bulk Fuel ITB (2022) – Sealed bids to supply city with gasoline or diesel fuel at city bulk gas/genset facilities. Addresses price fluctuations, security, spill responsibilities, and more. 1-year contract with optional extensions; includes sample supplier contract
  • Oroville Vehicle Petroleum Products ITB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply city with unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel through 24-hour pumps with cardlock system; must also deliver oils and lubricants upon request. 3-year contract; addresses price fluctuations, monthly reporting, and cutting diesel fuel for winter use
  • Pend Oreille County Fuel Delivery RFB (2022) – Sealed bids to supply county with diesel fuel and gasoline to be delivered to several county facilities. 2-year term; includes insurance requirements and general terms

Public Safety Equipment & Supplies

  • Arlington Fire Station Appliances ITB (2021) – Invitation to bid (via vendor roster) to supply city with kitchen appliances and washer/dryer to equip new fire station being constructed. Includes specifications, purchase order form, and terms and conditions
  • Bothell Emergency Vehicle Outfitting ITB (2019) – Invitation to bid for purchase and installation of equipment for police, fire, and emergency vehicles over 5-year period, with possible two-year extension. Includes standard agreement.
  • Camano Island Fire & Rescue Fire Engine Pumper RFB (2023) – Sealed bids for fire district to purchase new fire engine pumper apparatus (fire truck) ready for immediate service. Includes detailed apparatus specifications
  • Everett Police Firearms RFQ (2023) – Request for quotes to supply 15 Sig Sauer rifles with attachments for police department, to replace existing Colt rifles. Brand-name specification; city will ship old rifles to supplier for trade-in. Includes standard terms and conditions
  • Valley Regional Fire Authority Brush Truck ITB (2023) – Sealed bids for fire authority to purchase brush truck. Includes instructions, standard purchase agreement, and detailed apparatus specifications

Utility Equipment & Supplies

  • Anacortes Water Treatment Chemicals RFB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply approx. 56,000 gallons of sodium hypochlorite with minimum 12.5% available chlorine to water and wastewater treatment plants. Must be delivered in bulk tank truckloads as needed; includes general conditions and sample contract.
  • Cowlitz County Culvert Pipe and Drainage System Products RFB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply and deliver culvert pipe, beveled end sections, couplers, and other drainage system products for one year. Bids are based on unit prices; county does not specify minimum or maximum quantities that will be ordered.
  • Everett:
    • Compact Excavator RFQ (2024) – Request for quotes to supply new & unused Takeuchi compact excavator, attachments, and accessories for use by sewer division. Includes specifications, standard terms & conditions, and addendum revising specs and price sheet
    • Utility Billing Stock and Envelopes RFQ (2023) – Request for quotes for supplier to provide approximately 35,000 units of utility bill stock and envelopes per month. Includes standard terms/conditions and utility billing artwork/designs.
  • Grays Harbor PUD No. 1:
    • Electrical Meters RFB (2023) – Sealed bids to supply electrical meters on as-needed basis. 3-year term with optional 1-year extension; includes supply contract.
    • Wood Utility Poles RFB (2022) – Sealed bids to supply fully treated wood poles for utility distribution and transmission on as-needed basis. Includes supply contract and pole framing drawings as well as addendum.

Other Vehicles & Vehicle Parts

  • Anacortes CanAm Defender Vehicle with Plow ITB (2024) – Sealed bids for CanAm Defender (off-road utility vehicle) or equivalent with plow. Includes specifications and sample supplier agreement
  • C-TRAN Hybrid Bus Components ITB (2024) – Sealed bids to supply locally funded hybrid components to support Gillig hybrid bus fleet. All parts must be Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or approved equal. 1-year term with four optional extensions; includes sample contract
  • Everett Ford Automotive Parts RFQ (2023) – Request for quotes for authorized Ford dealers to provide original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Ford parts for making warranty and non-warranty type repairs to city fleet. Brand-name specification; all products must be new/unused. Includes standard terms/conditions and addenda.
  • Port of Longview Dump Truck Purchase RFP (2023) – Request for proposals for port to purchase one dump truck (new or used). Includes specifications and sample equipment purchase contract; vendors are also encouraged to include options for alternative fuel vehicles (electric, hybrid, biofuels, etc.)

Other Equipment and Supply Purchases

  • Everett Outdoor Benches RFQ (2023) – Request for quotes for supplier to provide six outdoor benches for park use. Includes standard terms and conditions.

Last Modified: April 16, 2024