Procuring Services

At some point in your UC Davis stay you will need to obtain goods or services in order to carry out your work here, whether it’s teaching, research, public service or patient care. In such a large, diverse place as UC Davis we are subject to federal and state laws, UC and UC Davis policies, and contractual obligations which means it’s not as simple as just buying what you need when you need it. How to get what you need depends on several factors, and there are some formal steps to take and decisions to be made. UC and UC Davis administration works very hard to make this as simple and seamless as possible for you. Even though it may be tempting to buy what you need yourself and then be reimbursed, because of our fiduciary obligations to our funding sources more likely than not reimbursement is prohibited and you will be stuck with the bill. (More information on procuring services and reimbursement). We don’t want that to happen so it is important for you to use the established UC Davis procurement procedures. There are two basic considerations in any procurement – financial and legal.

Financial is pretty obvious – are you getting the right product for the best price? But while the legal considerations may not seem very important, they may far outweigh the cost. Some real-life examples:

  • The $20,000 worth of tests run for a research project ended up being poorly run and incomplete data provided, totally unusable for purposes of the research study they were necessary to support. Was the university obligated to make payment anyway? The Department Purchase Order had no terms as to quality control.
  • The copyrights to a beautiful, artistic poster developed as part of an educational research project at a cost of $5000 belonged to the artist, and to reuse the image a few years later in another project cost another $2000 because the initial agreement didn’t contain a copyright term.

Types of Agreements

As a large institution there are common needs, so there are many agreements already in place to obtain pre-negotiated, often discounted rates. You might be surprised at the diversity of what’s available – car and hotel rentals, cell phone service, lab equipment maintenance, data recovery and drinking water. The advantage to using these existing  “blanket” agreements is that they are already in place, both financially and legally – you just order and go.

If you need something not available through a blanket agreement, an individual contract will be crafted for you, most often by the campus Materiel Management group in Accounting & Financial Services. Common contracts are a Purchase Order (PO), a Department Purchase Order (DPO – not the same thing,) a Repair Order, an Independent Contractor or Independent Consultant agreement, and they are all different. Or perhaps you need a Change Order to modify an existing agreement. The good news is that you don’t need to know – Purchasing & Business Contracts will take care of that for you!

Some agreements are quick and easy while others may involve extended negotiations, and which is the case is often not obvious at the start, so it’s best to start this process as soon as you know you will need something. The Purchasing & Business Contracts website  is a wealth of information about procurement in general, and the specifics about how to get started in requesting what you need. Start with “Before You Buy.”

Financial Conflict of Interest

Financial conflict of interest (COI) is an often unexpected factor in a procurement which can stop a transaction in its tracks. California state law mandates some restrictions and has some outright prohibitions on purchasing transactions involving individuals or companies with certain defined ties to university personnel. COI is so important that UC and UC Davis policy prohibits even the appearance of it. You will help yourself in the long run to learn a bit about COI and how to avoid it.

Some financial COIs are rather obvious – not hiring your own company, for example – but some of the restrictions are not so obvious. For example, doing business with a company in which your sister-in-law owns a 1% interest, or contracting with someone who left UC employ less than a year ago (2 years in some cases.) Another potential COI situation involves going straight to a single vendor without checking for other vendors or their prices. These do not automatically make a transaction impossible when addressed in advance of the actual purchase but certain steps must be taken and documented through the procurement process.

For these reasons it is best not to make any firm commitments to anyone until you’ve checked with the UC Davis office handling your procurement request. Making a promise we later can’t keep creates hard feelings that can have repercussions for years.