Louisville is pioneering an approach that aims to make purchasing and contracting a key ingredient in successfully delivering services.
The Louisville, Kentucky, Free Public Library needs its security guards to do more than simply monitor the entrances to its buildings. “They have to respond to medical emergencies, address disruptive behavior and make sure no one is using drugs in the bathrooms or hiding under the stairwells at closing,” says Belinda Catman, the library’s executive administrator for operations. The toughest part of the job, she says, is dealing with “a diverse population that includes children, elderly, individuals who are homeless, use substances or are mentally ill.” Too often, security guards assigned to the library have been unable or unwilling to fulfill key aspects of the job, leading to excessive turnover.
In trying to fix this problem, Catman uncovered a mechanism driving the mismatch: Security guards were not being hired by the library directly. Instead, the library had tacked on to a $6.5 million Facilities Management Department contract with a private security firm without updating the scope and qualifications requirements. “Unlike at the library, the security-guard job at Facilities involves little interaction with people beyond greeting visitors at the door and asking them to sign in,” explains Catman.
Louisville was treating contracting as a rubber-stamping activity rather than a crucial ingredient to the success of city services. The procurement system was highly compliance-oriented and siloed between departments, which became a particular pain point when departments shared products or services. Louisville is not alone: Cities across the country are falling short of achieving key objectives due to their rote approach to contracting. But the good news is that many of them are ready to get out of the contracting rut and reinvent how they partner with the private sector.
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