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Information on new purchasing website could save city thousands

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 by Michael Kanin

A recent effort by the City of Austin’s Purchasing Office to make much of the information produced by city procurement efforts available on the city’s website could save tax payers thousands of dollars. The move will be completed on October 1, when city officials will unveil what they call the “vendor connection.”


Officials have already placed a complete listing of the city’s 2010 and 2011 contracts, as well as a ledger that lists expenditures paid out by the city on the site. The vendor connection feature will offer city contractors the ability to set-up a profile that will, among other highlights, allow them to receive automatic email updates about upcoming bid opportunities.


City Purchasing Officer Byron Johnson played a key role in establishing the system. However, he wasn’t quite ready to take all of the credit. “It was a combined effort from our…computer people, the comptroller’s office, and purchasing to put this together,” he said. “We think this is an exciting endeavor for us to do.”


Johnson told In Fact Daily that the change was sorely needed. “I got here in 2006, and we were just starting to upgrade our financial system,” he said. “I came from the City of El Paso and we had worked to make some of our solicitations online, and so the very first thing I said was ‘well, we need to get some of ours online here too.’”


That evolved into a full-on effort that will result in the completed web site.


The effort landed the city’s Financial Services department a gold-level Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle Award for transparency. According to the Texas Comptroller’s web site, the honor recognizes “local governments across Texas that are striving to meet a high standard for financial transparency online.”


It continues on to say that the comptroller’s office uses the award to spotlight “local governments that are: opening their books to the public, providing clear, consistent pictures of spending, sharing information in a user-friendly format that lets taxpayers easily drill down for more information.”


On top of all of this, Johnson notes that the switch to all electronic information has saved his office roughly $10,000 per year in postage and printing costs since FY2008. “We were mailing (bid documents) out to people at one time,” he said.


Johnson says that, under the old system, interested parties would receive large envelopes through the mail. Those packages would have to be processed by city mail staff. He notes that, with the switch, savings in relation to those staff efforts have also been achieved, though they are harder to quantify.


“We were sending out box-loads of those, literally.”

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