Thursday, August 11, 2005

Marquette Purchasing: Wanting to Waste $300

When Marquette’s Political Science Department wanted to buy an office chair for a faculty member, the departmental secretary checked out Marquette’s “approved vendors” on the Purchasing website, and found that the cheapest chair available cost $400.

She did a bit of digging, and found that Office Max had a similar chair for about $100. She went to Office Max and bought it with the Department’s credit card, put it in her trunk, and brought it in to work.

The faculty member in question was entirely happy with the purchase, and she had saved the Department $300.

But when bureaucrats in the Purchasing Department saw the credit card charge, they weren’t so happy. The secretary got an e-mail saying the following:
Leah, we have reviewed credit card purchases for April 2005 through June, 2005 and noticed that you may not have been utilizing Marquette’s preferred providers for some of your purchases. Examples of non preferred vendor usage are listed below:

[Details listed here]

If the items or services you purchased from these vendors can be obtained from university preferred providers, we would like to encourage you to utilize them for future purchases.

The use of preferred providers is important to the university. They have given competitive pricing, dependable deliveries, established billing accounts, sales representation, and have accepted the university legal terms of purchase.
Undeterred by this silly e-mail, she replied as follows:
Frankly, the situations of non-vendor usage should be more closely examined so that the venders can get a better sense as to why they are being undersold. In terms of customer service, I have found little difference in how non-Marquette vendors treat me. In fact, I would say that the customer service has been better because these vendors do NOT have a relationship with the university and therefore have a vested interest in cultivating a better relationship.
She then concluded by saying:
I certainly try to work with the preferred vendors when possible but significant cost savings for the department as well as the university cannot be ignored.
The whole notion of “preferred vendors” is a bureaucratic boondoggle run amok.

The experience of Marquette, particularly in regard to computer purchases, is that when a vendor gets a monopoly (or near-monopoly) on Marquette purchases, they jack up the price, knowing that they need not seriously compete.

Then why would Purchasing want to give vendors monopoly or near-monopoly status?

Basically, because it provides the bureaucrats something to do. It also increases their power. Potential vendors have to suck up to Purchasing or Information Technology bureaucrats, cater to them, and pander to them.

The “preferred vendor” program is also a dandy way of giving business to politically favored vendors, whether it be politically correct vendors (“minority” or “women owned”) or alumni, or simply companies that certain bureaucrats happen to like.

The upshot, of course, is that Marquette spends more money than it needs to spend, but the money doesn’t come out of the budget of Purchasing. It comes out of the budgets of all the departments, divisions and schools in the University.

All this goes back to the corruption of the administrative culture of the University under former President Albert J. DiUlio. When DiUlio was President (1990-1996) the “business side” of the bureaucracy became vastly more powerful as well as more overbearing and arrogant.

Fr. Wild did nothing to change that, indeed, he appears not to even recognize a problem.

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