NASPO Pulse

Tim Blute, Center for Best Practices Director, National Governors Association: Communication and Partnerships

June 23, 2020 National Association of State Procurement Officials Season 1 Episode 8
NASPO Pulse
Tim Blute, Center for Best Practices Director, National Governors Association: Communication and Partnerships
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NASPO Pulse
Tim Blute, Center for Best Practices Director, National Governors Association: Communication and Partnerships
Jun 23, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
National Association of State Procurement Officials

In episode 8, we discuss the importance of partnership and communication with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Director, Tim Blute. We ask Tim about the role of the CPO and how Governors can support them through the pandemic. Got a comment? An idea for an episode? Email [email protected], we would love to hear from you!

Show Notes Transcript

In episode 8, we discuss the importance of partnership and communication with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Director, Tim Blute. We ask Tim about the role of the CPO and how Governors can support them through the pandemic. Got a comment? An idea for an episode? Email [email protected], we would love to hear from you!

Kevin Minor:

Greetings episode eight of the NASPO pulse, the podcast where we are monitoring issues in state procurement. We've got our fingers on the pulse. I'm your host, Kevin Minor, and eight has me feeling great. Do you know why? Because not only do I have my colleague Olivia Hook Frey with me for another co-interview, but we're talking with the national Governors association more specifically we're co interviewing Tim Blute, Center for the Best Practices Director of the N GA. Olivia.

Olivia Hook Frey:

Yeah. Thanks Kevin. We've been working with the National Governors Association since January of this year, before the pandemic. We appreciate the work that we've done together to help our members, the CPOs and the governors and combating the virus across the country. We are pleased to be able to join the National Governor's Association and a member briefing for governors and their chiefs of staff. To talk about the role of CPOs during the pandemic, as well as the role of our cooperative purchasing arm value point. CPOs and their staff are on the front lines of fighting the virus by finding PPE and other critical items for their States. They're working in the state emergency operation centers around the clock, and we look forward to hearing from Tim about how CPOs and governors can work together to help their citizens across the country. We plan to continue this collaborative work after the pandemic and look forward to it the rest of the year. We'll hold.

Kevin Minor:

Thank you, Olivia. And now before we get started a message from the 2020 NASPO President George Schutter, George.

George Schutter:

All right . Thank you. Thank you very much, Kevin. I am George Schutter. I'm the president of the national association of state procurement officials and also the, the Chief Procurement Officer for the District of Columbia. And I really do appreciate this opportunity to , uh, to have dialogue , especially during the time of this pandemic. It's a very timely actually , uh, that , uh, the National Governors Association and the national association of state procurement officials , um, have pendant and agreements , uh , even before this, this pandemic , uh, really looking at , I think particularly in this pandemic, the States of all the States and the district, we've all competed with each other for requirements , uh, in this emergency , uh, unlike many others , um, all of the jurisdictions , uh, are , uh, it's a unique , uh, emergency cause all of the jurisdictions are having the same needs for services and , uh, and supplies and PPE , uh , all facing the same issues at the same time. And so, u h, we have, I think done a, u h, done a lot of good work with the network of, u h, of chief procurement officers out there, u h, to, to align and coordinate as best as possible during this pandemic. T here's so much here to learn though, u h, on t he, the structures and the mechanisms, u h, to be able to fix the current contemporaneous needs right now, u h, as well as the structural, u h, needs i n t he, i n t he f uture to prevent this. U h, this really is a perfect time for broader cooperative, u h, procurements, where y ou can really balance, u h, the public need with public buying power, u m, in the, in the district w here we're getting ready to, u h, u h, to lead a nationwide PPE effort that is looking to, to both leverage that buying power, u h, for multi jurisdictional needs, but also being able to work with our health professionals to make sure that, u h, the products that we're bringing in, u h, are appropriate for that use. So I absolutely appreciate the, u h, the time of this podcast and look forward to working with our colleagues at the national g overnors association, u m, in this partnership to really, u h, give some good focus on, u h, the analytics solve problems a nd, and really look at best practices, u h, for the district i n the S tates going forward. Thanks, Kevin,

Kevin Minor:

Absolutely. George, and now let's take the pulse. Tim and Olivia, thank you so much for joining us on the pulse today.

Olivia Hook Frey:

Thanks for having us.

Kevin Minor:

Olivia, can you give just a brief overview of the partnership between NASPO and NGA?

Olivia Hook Frey:

Sure. So thanks again, Tim, for being here, we really appreciate the partnership that we've built over the last several months. We began working with the NGA team back in January of this year, before the coronavirus pandemic , uh , sent a great collaboration. We had some different plans, I think for this year before coronavirus , uh , came about, but we've been really grateful for the resources that they've shared and been able to share some of our resources with their members have had conversations about the role of the CPO in finding PPE , um , working in the EOC and , and working with governors to support them through response to the pandemic.

Tim Blute:

Yeah, this is Tim. I would just add to that, thanks to NASPA and thanks to all Olivia for a great way of framing that I think we never imagined that the partnership when we started out in January would be so critical. The response to the COVID outbreak and pandemic has necessitated a whole host of questions, new questions, somewhat novel questions around procurement in particular PPE testing supplies and having a , having you all as a partner has been in just an incredible wealth of knowledge that we've been able to tap into as we work with our members and advise our members and their staff.

Kevin Minor:

So Tim, you , you are the director for NGA center for best practices. Can you give us just a little bit of your background and then maybe what your day to day looks like?

Tim Blute:

Yeah, sure. So I've been with NGA actually over six years now , um, started out at NGA, working on our cyber security team and the NGA center for best practices and worked on that team and then led that team for a number of years. Uh , and then I branched out and developed a new portfolio work , um , that looked into some, the intersection of States and emerging technologies. And then I started this role as a leader of the center for best practices on an interim basis last fall , um, and then started on a permanent basis this winter. And what that means in practice is that I helped to coordinate and set the direction for our multiple policy teams . So, you know, we've got a whole host of experts who work across the full suite of state public policy issues. Um, and then, so when something arises like coronavirus is a great example, you know, my role is to help to coordinate all of our responses and make sure that we're thinking about it from like our members, think about these things from a whole government approach. My job is essentially to make sure we're thinking about it from a whole of center approach, a whole of organization approach. Cause I also spend a good amount of time working within the organization to make sure that the efforts that we're undertaking with state officials are coordinated with our government relations colleagues who are doing advocacy on Capitol Hill or to the administration, certainly with our NGA partners community , um , to make sure that we are asking for input and assistance and sharing the work that we're doing to make sure we're leveraging those partnerships.

Kevin Minor:

It sounds like a lot of coordination there too. And you , you really can't miss any of the information.

Tim Blute:

Yeah. And so when she can say that, I mean, I think early on in the crisis, you know, one of the heartening things has been just the overwhelming and I say that positively, I'm responsible . We've seen other organizations out there. And so that's, again, everything from organizations that we partnered with for 30 years to new groups that just popped up in the wake of the COVID crisis. And so initially, you know , one of the things we really were thinking long and hard about is how do we, how do we keep track of all of these offers? Cause what if there is a needle in a haystack to your point? You know, we want to make sure we're not missing early on when we were talking about, you know, the PPS or the ventilator shortage couple of months ago, you know, what if somebody really does have a unique, innovative , um , solution to that problem, we , we really thought a lot about how do we make sure we don't lose that solution in our email, just because the sort of the noise there's so much noise and how do we not make sure. And so one of the things we've done is really tried . We stood up an internal process to make sure that we were genuinely looking at all of those offers. Um , even if they were coming from someone we never knew before we had never spoken to before, even if maybe they seemed a little off the wall, we want to make sure we are at least giving them a read, a thorough listening to , um, and in many cases, you know, we found a lot of new partnerships that we didn't have before. Then we think of at least added to added to our knowledge base, if nothing more and added to our understanding of the crisis,

Olivia Hook Frey:

Tim, on that note, if I could add, you know, we've done some of the same, we feel like we're getting cold calls, cold emails constantly. Um, are there any resources that stand out to you as really helpful for the governors throughout the pandemic?

Tim Blute:

I mean the whole host of, of efforts we've received have been incredibly helpful. I mean, I think one of the things, a couple broad examples, you know, one we've seen just the , the philanthropic community sort of turn on a dime and focus its efforts on coronavirus . So we've seen , we just had an incredible outpouring from folks that we've worked with for many years who say, you know, where do the governors need help? Where can we be most helpful? How can we help, not just NGA, but how can we look across our whole suite of projects that we have ongoing and make sure we're responding to either the public health crisis or the attending, you know, economic or human services or educational challenges that come along. Um, you know, I think one of the things that's come up, that's been really interesting in terms of resource we've received. There have been such an outpouring and politically we think about like the PPE and medical equipment, you know, so many organizations came up and very quickly had an idea about how to solve that. So whether that's that new technological innovation, you know, some of the folks who are gonna come up with a new way to build a ventilator on the fly or to repurpose a ventilator or to repair old ones up to individuals who were working around the clock to identify stockpiles of PPS around the world. And one of the things that we've, you know, I think we thought about this for a long time is how can we be most helpful? You know, we're a public policy organization. We're not a multinational logistics and supply chain expertise. So what we realized is that because we were getting so many responses and because we were developing this incredibly broad and deep network of experts, that we could essentially help to put all those folks together. So if you came to us and said that, you know, you've got the logistics capability to move PP from point a to point B, but we want to make sure that we marry you up with the person that says that they have that PP wherever they are. And then is there somebody out there who has a long history of being able to do that? Validating who can say, okay, so company a that's a legitimate company they've worked with government before we can trust their PPE . And so each one of those steps along that really complicated , um, delivery from, you know, finding the equipment to getting it, where needs to be that requires a great deal of expertise. And I think one of the things we've been really been able to do is bring all those experts together and make sure that they're all talking to each other in order to effectuate the fastest. Um , and in some cases, most , um , nimble and responsive delivery of those products to our governors.

Olivia Hook Frey:

One thing that we have Tim, that we have historically done is we have , um , regional council calls monthly where we meet on a regional basis. Um, you know, handful of States in that region. And we've kind of tabled those the last few months , um, having weekly COBIT related calls, but we decided to pick those back up in June because we realized that some of this, you know, obviously it's a pandemic, it's a national issue, it's a global issue, but there are some nuances in terms of PPE need and other that is really regionally specific.

Tim Blute:

Yeah. I mean , I think that's why you've seen some of these regional groups form is a recognition that they may have a set of needs that is somewhat distinct from another region. And in particular , I think a lot of it relies on how their economies are intertwined, what the travel patterns may look like, you know, where people come and go and just a recognition. You know, I think about, I live in Washington DC. You think about the region with DC, Maryland, and Virginia, you know, there are people who travel through all three jurisdictions, just in the daily course of a normal Workday . Maybe not right now, we're all working from home, but for those three re you know , those three jurisdictions , um , have to coordinate with each other and have obviously been coordinating with each other. When you think about responding to something like this.

Olivia Hook Frey:

Tim, we're really interested in bolstering the relationship between the CPOs and the governor's even before COVID. CPOs are the experts in contracting procurement, and they want to provide any assistance that they can to the governors of their States. Um , so during the pandemic and even afterwards, what kind of information do your governors see as helpful resources to help advance their, their missions?

Tim Blute:

Across regardless, sort of, regardless of the function of government, one of the goals is always to make sure that government's delivering its services to the citizens as effectively and efficiently as possible. So we know to deliver those services. Procurement is a huge piece of that. So I think as the experts in the , uh , effective and cost efficient procurement of whether it be products or services on behalf of the state, that knowledge is really critical to meeting the overall goal of improving citizen services. I think in the midst of a crisis like we're facing now in the midst of challenging economic environment, like we are also facing now and likely will face for at least some foreseeable future. Um, there's going to be a great deal of need and reliance on the individuals who understand how to effectively procure , um, equipment. But I think it has to go beyond just equipment but into services as well. Um , because we have a whole new host of needs that I don't think we were anticipating , uh, needing to think about six months ago, right? Pre COVID pre pandemic, right.

Olivia Hook Frey:

You know , our CPOs and their staff and the central procurement office are stewards of taxpayer dollars. And we're looking at data and what kind of data we can, we can collect and disseminate from COBIT and from the pandemic, and looking to share that data in terms of spend or number of items, quantity, where they're being distributed to. And, you know, we're just looking for different resources that we already have, or that we can get pretty quickly and easily and to partner with the governors to, to advance those missions.

Tim Blute:

Yeah. I think that, you know , database decision making has been something that we've talked a lot about in the public policy community for a number of years, but I think we shouldn't think that it's somehow just limited to the sort of use of evidence in public policy, if , why wouldn't we want to have better and improved data to help guide our purchasing decisions. Right. That's something that we've often point to the private sector as being leaders in, but it seems to be everywhere. The public sector could also demonstrate some real leadership. And that's an opportunity for cooperation between our two members.

Kevin Minor:

Yeah. It's that information, that knowledge is just as valuable as the PPE is right now. Uh , what role can the CPO from each state play in assisting governors

Tim Blute:

Sure I think there's a couple of things. So one, you know, I think it was Olivia mentioned the steward of taxpayer dollars, right? So really underlining that function, that they're here to protect taxpayer dollars and to use them most efficiently and most effectively. So I think that's one, two , in some cases, I think there's probably some need to demystify a government procurement, right? What is, what is the art of the possible? I think a lot of people, you know, I think back to the days that I worked on cybersecurity issues, there was always questions around how hard it is to procure either cybersecurity services or technology equipment, but in the course of a crisis, you know, being, having the deep knowledge of the procurement process and being able to say, what can we do? What can we not do? What do we need legislative concurrence for What's the definition of an emergency, really being able to be fast and available with those answers as this crisis evolves, I think will be really important. And then the third piece would be, you know, going back to that needle in a haystack idea that we talked about, you know, as procurement experts , um, where are the unique sources of whatever the item we need to procure, right? So if everybody is looking abroad for PP, you know, is there a bag , is there sort of a solution in your own backyard? Is there somebody who can convert their factory? Is there, you know, we saw early on and I think it was in California, where there were a number of large companies that had to have stockpiles of PPEs going back to the wildfires. So I think having that nimbleness to identify new and different sources for our equipment. So whether that is sort of PPE or whatever's required in the next phase of this or in subsequent activities, those are, those are sort of the three things that I would think about.

Kevin Minor:

We are anticipating a heavy financial impact from COVID-19 that we're going to have on the States in the next one to two years, how are the governors planning for this impact and how might this affect state budgets?

Tim Blute:

Yeah, that's such a , such a critically important question. And I would start off by just saying, I think, you know, we're still in the very early stages of knowing exactly what the financial impact is going to be, what the economic impact. And then we've seen obviously just a tremendous increase in the unemployed. Uh, we've see , saw, you know, really , um, terrible numbers for GDP growth for the last quarter. But you know, the folks that we talked to, you know, different economists we've talked to have said there really isn't a model for this crisis. So kind of goes back to it's so hard to project what the medium and longterm consequences are. So I think what we're in the phase now of still trying to gather information, trying to look back and see what happened as a result of 2008, 2009 financial crisis, and the great recession, that's sort of the closest analogous recession we can look to what was the impact of ban on state budgets? How did governors respond? Um, what did they do in order to balance their state budgets? You know, as your listeners are probably probably aware States have to balance their budget every year, right? So they kind of make governors and state legislators have got to make the hard decision of looking at what's coming in and what's got to go out. And those two have got to add up in a way , um , that, you know, the federal government doesn't have to. Um , so again, I think we're still in the early stages, but it's clear that there's going to be a significant economic and financial toll. I think the question is just how long does it last, what does recovery look like? And a lot of that is going to come down to, you know, you sort of have to address the public health crisis before you can address before you can fully address the economic crisis. And we're still relatively early on , um , in both of them. But again, something that we're tracking actively, I know our members are concerned about. And , uh , I think it's going to be one of the dominant questions. We'll all be talking about in the coming months, if not years.

Olivia Hook Frey:

Absolutely. I know that for our members, we've heard anywhere from 4% to 50% budget cuts, which is incredible.

Tim Blute:

Yeah. I mean, each state is so different, right? Each state's economy is somewhat fundamentally, somewhat different on its fundamentals, what its industrial makeup is. So each day we'll feel it in a different way, but I think it's safe to say that every state will feel it in some way.

Kevin Minor:

So let's talk a little bit about the events , uh , due to travel bans . Uh , many of the , of the events have been canceled. What is NGA doing to continue providing education, networking opportunities without that face to face interaction?

Tim Blute:

Yeah, such a good question. Um, I think like everybody else who plans and executes a number of events over the course of a year, we're quickly , uh, having to turn around and think about what virtual programming looks like. You know, we're all quickly becoming the zoom experts, not to pick up , not to pick zoom, right? Pit , whatever platform you're using, we're all quickly learning how to use it. So that's what we're doing. Um, we're taking a look at any event that we had planned over the next couple months and take a look at, you know, whether it makes sense to move it virtual. And, you know, when you move something virtually , you often have to change the format. So nobody wants to sit on a virtual meeting for eight hours. So you can eight hour virtual meeting and you stretch that out over a couple of days. Um , do you do that, you know, a series of events over the course of a week? Um, so we're looking at, we're definitely looking to look at that. Obviously we're looking at some things and seeing , you know, do we just, do we postpone them for a little while and see whether the actual interaction would really benefit from being in person and the nature of the work means that we can sort of change the work plan and do it in person in a year or six months, but obviously the timelines really influx. So let's say in general, we're thinking about virtual. Um, one of the challenges we face is we work with obviously with state officials across the whole country. And so one thing I have to admit, I didn't think about initially when we started moving to virtual is the time zone problem. And so how do you schedule a coffee break or a lunch? You know , when do you start the meeting having to put all three or more, depending on if we've got , um, Hawaii or some of the Pacific territories or Alaska in the meeting having to put all the time . So I got an agenda for a virtual meeting last week and it had like four different times for every session in each down . And also we sort of have to make sure start anything we do later in the day. You know, we can't really do a virtual meeting that kicks off at eight o'clock in the morning in less . We only have , um , Eastern time zone state . So that's the one of the things having to work through. But you know, the last thing I'll say in this and , you know, would certainly be eager to hear anybody's thoughts , um , either of you or any of the listeners is how do you manage the networking aspect of it? Cause you know, it feels like the last thing anybody wants to do at the end of a zoom meeting or a virtual meeting is then kind of go to a virtual networking event. And know we've said to our team let's be creative. Cause we know that one of the big benefits of the meetings that we host is that informal exchange of information, right? There's certainly putting the experts up on the panel, having the speaker, that's all valuable and people get a lot out of it. But we also know you get a lot out of who you bump into in the back of the ballroom or who you have dinner with or who you end up sitting with at breakfast. How do we re replicating those, I think is going to be the hardest part, but we certainly want to think creatively about it.

Kevin Minor:

I think you have to just have to encourage your members and, you know , let them know that this is, this is kind of the new normal, right? Don't just play it off.

Tim Blute:

Yeah. And I think just all acknowledging that it's going to be different, right? Everybody kind of going into the event, whether it's a big, huge conference or whether it's a three person conversation, it's going to be different than if the three of us were sitting in a conference room having this call, right. The dynamics are going to be a little bit different. And we all know that, right? The listeners know that the meeting participants know that meeting planners know that. So just going in with that, that sort of level set. And the other thing is, and this applies to every aspect of this current situation we're in. You just have to be flexible, right? We have to be flexible. We got to know that if you're in a virtual meeting and everybody's teleworking, somebody may duck out of the virtual meeting for half an hour, cause they've got to walk the dog or they've got to feed their kid, or they've got to attend to something else because between work and life is completely become even more blurred than it was before this. So

Olivia Hook Frey:

Yeah, I know engagement's the hard part there you can put on the virtual conference all day long or in the short microburst or whatever you think is appropriate. But the engagement part is hard because we've all been guilty of working on something else or sending an email during a conference call. So I think part of that engagement that we've been encouraging our staff to do is to turn on your camera. You know, everyone may be sitting in their , their hoodie and you know, comfortable at home. But , um, I think that this virtual face to face is helpful too, for that engagement factor.

Kevin Minor:

So Tim, before we let you go, you have any advice for our listeners?

Tim Blute:

Sure. I , I guess I would just say one thing and that's, that goes back to, I said earlier though, the road out of this crisis , um , this pandemic in my mind is, is public private partnership. It's cooperation and partnership at large. So if anybody listening, you know, if you've got a good idea, if you've got a solution to the problems that we face , um, you know, get in touch, get in touch with NASPA, get in touch with NGA, talk to your local government, talk to your state government. Um, you know, all commerce are needed. If you've got a good idea, make sure don't be embarrassed to share it. That's my piece of advice. That's great.

Kevin Minor:

Excellent. Yeah. And we'll make sure that we , um , put your c ontact info or NGA contact info in the bio for this, for this episode, Olivia hook fry is the NASPA director of membership and partnerships. And Tim bloot is the director of NGA center for best practices. Thank you both so much for joining me today.

Tim Blute:

Thank you, all, this was a lot of fun.

Olivia Hook Frey:

Thanks for the partnership.

Kevin Minor:

Looks like there are several associations adapting to the current crisis - crises. Not only are we adapting, but we're working together to communicate, to aggregate data and knowledge. As Olivia said, these partnerships are extremely important, whether they are between NASPA and NGA or public private partnership, it's going to be important to work in lock step. Make sure that the whole job gets done, not just pieces of any one job. As Tim said, regardless of the function of government. One of the goals, primary goals is to always make sure the government is delivering its services to its citizens effectively and efficiently as possible. What do you think? Let us know, email us your questions. Comments answers. If you have them at podcast, naspa.org. I'd like to thank my cohost Olivia Hook Frey. If you have any questions about NASPO COVID-19 resources, you can check out naspo . org/COVID -19-resources or email [email protected] Make sure to put all that information in the bio for you. Also, thanks again to the 2020 NASPO president George Schutter for taking time to record that message. Well, that does it for the pulse today. If you haven't already make sure that you subscribe to us on Apple podcast , Spotify, Google, or wherever you get them listens, you do not want to be the only person who didn't listen to the pulse. Make sure check out the pulse [email protected] and read some of the insightful articles written by our very own NASPO staff. I'm Kevin Minor until next time