After a year-long effort to streamline the city’s contracting applications, the Mayor’s Office of Contracts plans to release a drastically revised set of vendor questionnaires within the month. While paperwork shuffled by city agencies tends to go unnoticed, officials say these changes will have broad implications for how the city purchases $9 billion of goods and services a year, roughly 20 percent of the city’s total budget.
“We needed to make it easier for people to do business with the city,” said Elisa Velazquez, general counsel at the Contracts office. Working with officials from the City Comptroller’s office, Law Department and Department of Investigations, Velazquez said the new forms will no longer have questions that duplicate other city data or are irrelevant to the task at hand. So now contractors will have to fill out only one form, instead of the previous two. And instead of filing a separate Vendor Information Exchange System (VENDEX) form with every contract, vendors will file forms with the Mayor’s Office of Contracts once every three years.
The forms will be stored in a database accessible to all city agencies. Created after a bribes-for-contracts scheme was exposed within the Parking Violations Bureau in the mid-1980s, the form inquires about 23 aspects of vendors’ backgrounds, including financial history, business affiliations, and criminal records of executive officers. But over time, many questions were added that had little to do with integrity, Velazquez said.
Now, she said, seemingly extraneous and wordy questions like, “Is your company listed on a regional or national stock exchange?” or “Has your company ever been denied a contract for failure to secure a bond?” will no longer be asked.
Less paperwork thrills vendors. “Making the [form] simpler, fairer and more limited in scope should alone entitle Mayor [Michael Bloomberg] and Comptroller [Bill Thompson] to medals,” Margaret Stix, associate director of New York City Employment and Training Coalition, which represents 165 member human services contractors, said in testimony to the charter revision committee last year.
But while most are celebrating the VENDEX changes, some vendors are cautioning that fundamental reform of the city’s contracting process is still long overdue. Michael Stoller, director of the Human Services Council, an umbrella organization that represents over 200 local vendors who contract to provide human services, from elderly care to drug counseling, said the issue for nonprofits is not simply filling out onerous forms but “getting paid in a timely way for the work we do.”
To cure that problem, the contracts agency has convened working groups to analyze late payments, performance-based evaluations and auditing. Meanwhile, Robert Jackson, head of the City Council’s Contracts Committee, plans to reintroduce a dozen procurement reform bills this spring.
“The good news is that everybody cares,” Stoller said. “By spring, we should start seeing results.”