While I have worked closely with many of the state leaders whom I have interviewed for my blog, today’s Q&A centers on a subject especially dear to my heart. You probably guessed it – I’m talking about procurement, of course! Maricopa County’s Chief Procurement Officer is an ethical man with practical and earnest perspectives. I was excited to have the chance to chat with Wes Baysinger about his history and his time in public office.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in western South Dakota on a 5,000 acre cattle ranch that borders the Badlands National Park. We were some of the initial settlers. Only the Native Americans lived on the land before my family. My grandmother came to South Dakota in a covered wagon in 1902.
What was it like growing up in South Dakota?
When I was a child, life seemed simple. In grade school, I attended a one-room country school – Big Foote Country School. We had one teacher for eight grades and 16 students total. The schoolhouse was built by my great grandfather. We didn’t even have indoor plumbing until I was in eighth grade. Looking back, I never appreciated how difficult it would be for one teacher to prepare and teach up to sixteen kids in eight different grades simultaneously.
Everyone was also expected to work hard and contribute to make a living. Ranching is a 24/7 365-days-a-year job. When I was five, I was responsible for milking a cow every morning and every evening in addition to other chores. It was at this age that I drove a pickup for the first time so my father could feed the cows out of the back. When I was nine, I started driving a tractor in the field during the summer haying and harvest seasons. When we weren’t working, we entertained ourselves outside riding whatever livestock we could get our hands on, hunting, fishing and whatever else we could think of. My brothers and I were taught to be honest, independent and resourceful.
How did your parents influence you?
My parents have always emphasized the importance of education and learning. My brothers and I were constantly reminded as we grew up that we were going to graduate from college and have a better life then than they had. Although my parents didn’t have an opportunity to pursue an education (my dad didn’t graduate from grade school and my mother only had a high school education), they recognized the value of education and the opportunities it offered. It must have worked since we are all college graduates.
What did you study in college?
I went to South Dakota State University – otherwise known as “Moo U.” I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I was a general registration student for the first three years. At the end of my third year of college my academic advisor told me I needed to pick a major. After looking at my transcript, we decided the degree most easily in reach was political science. I ended up staying another year to obtain a degree in economics. So I graduated with a B.S. in political science and economics, with minors in history and geography. In 1996, I went back to school and obtained a master’s degree in technology management. After college, I worked on my parents’ ranch for awhile and then a friend of mine and I drove a pick-up truck through every state west of South Dakota at least twice. Las Vegas was our hub – behind Circus Circus was a campground that you could stay at for free for two days at a time!
How did you find yourself working in procurement?
I needed a job. Most individuals with an economics major went into banking but it didn’t appeal to me. While working on the ranch after graduating, I happened to apply for a role as a Buyer II with the state of South Dakota. I had no idea what procurement was or that it was a profession, but it sounded more interesting than being a loan officer so I accepted the job offer. My major purchasing responsibilities were varied and included copiers, laboratory equipment and supplies and petroleum products. I got everything that no one else wanted to buy. I thought I had died and went to heaven compared to working on a ranch. I only had to work eight hours a day, five days a week and I was making $6.30 an hour.
Maricopa County initiated a procurement reform effort a couple of years ago. What do you see as the biggest opportunities for improvement in the procurement process?
The primary opportunity I identified through this initiative was the potential for the county to benefit from greater vendor engagement. The world around us is changing so fast that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep abreast of new services and products on the market. We need to invite vendors to provide information and educate us on what they have to offer so we can look for opportunities to change processes, reduce costs or increase services. We can’t live in a vacuum.
Another opportunity is the need to continually enhance the county’s ability to effectively articulate our needs through specifications or a scope of work. If the county is unable to share our vision of what is needed with the vendor community, how can they be expected to realistically respond to a solicitation or execute the requirements of a contract?
Although we are constrained by statutory requirements, we need to remain nimble in how we operate by continuously looking for opportunities to improve our processes and outcomes. Some people would call this process improvement, and certainly that’s a part of what I’m describing, but if the focus is only on reducing time and expense (process), then we may still produce a below average product (outcome) and much will not have been accomplished. We’re looking at both process and outcome to obtain a holistic benefit.
Finally, the greatest opportunity for meaningful reform is to get relief from many of the statutory limitations. Unfortunately in many instances government procurement personnel are faced with the choice between effectively executing their responsibilities or following statutory requirements which add time and increase costs. We could be better stewards of the taxpayers’ money if we had more latitude in how we operate. I find it interesting that it’s often said government should more operate like a private business. I am confident in stating that no business that hoped to be successful would ever operate like we are statutorily mandated to operate. However, I don’t foresee meaningful statutory reform occurring in at least the near future based on the reaction to minor statutory change Maricopa County sponsored last year. Without a significant motivation to change, it is easier for the legislature to do nothing than act which means more of the same.
Procurement is a team sport! How do you manage having so many stakeholders in the procurement process – elected officials, departments, county management and vendors?
Procurement is a team sport and the team that makes it manageable is the team that exists in the Office of Procurement Services, the procurement staff. I personally don’t interact with the majority of people that come into contact with my office. The face of procurement for customers and vendors is the Procurement Officer who is responsible for a specific procurement. The prerequisite for successfully managing the needs of our stakeholders is a knowledgeable, competent, and motivated staff that focuses on the customers’ needs. The second most important prerequisite after staff is communications. Effectively communicating requires regularly meeting with customers to understand their needs, help them translate their needs into specifications, identifying opportunities and alternatives, overcome challenges and issues, and establishing an honest working relationship. My job is to remove barriers and resolve issues that impede the Procurement Officer’s to ability to engage with their customers and provide strategic direction, and then stay out of the way.
Any big procurements on the horizon?
We have a few projects either underway or that will be launched soon. We’re scheduled to resolicit our countywide landscaping services contract, we will be releasing the solicitation for constructing the Southwest Regional Center in the near future, and we’re in the process of bidding a large dam revitalization project for flood control.
You have been in procurement at Maricopa County for over 28 years! What are some key insights you have learned along the way?
“Say what you mean, and mean what you say.” The value of unquestioned honesty and integrity cannot be over emphasized in any job but to be successful in procurement, it’s absolutely necessary. Individuals engaged in the procurement profession spend large sums of money so trustworthiness is a critical job requirement.
Also, you can’t take everything personally. Every procurement decision I make is subject to scrutiny and criticism. There are times when customers and vendors don’t like a decision and they attempt to engage county management in an effort to overturn or change a decision. When this type of situation occurs, you have to remind yourself it’s business and not personal. It doesn’t change who you are and what you believe in. I often look at these situations as an opportunity to educate those involved so they understand what factors contributed to final decision. During my tenure at the county, I have been fortunate that management has been very supportive of this office.
Do you have any favorite expressions?
If you talk to people who know me they will tell you that I have several favorite expressions, which I use liberally, usually in jest. The first is, “you can’t fix stupid.” The other is, “if stupidity got us into this, why can’t it get us out of it?” It’s obvious I’m not much of a philosopher.
What are some of your favorite pastimes? Do you have any pets?
Watching my daughter play volleyball, spending time with my family, reading, building computers for myself, working on my computer network, golfing, flying and doing projects around the house are all things I love. My next interest is to learn how to scuba dive. I don’t have any pets, but my wife and daughter each have a dog, Chili and Rico. Somehow it has become my responsibility to feed and water them.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in public service?
If you’re looking for glamour and riches, public service isn’t for you. If you’re looking to make a difference in the world, it’s probably a career path you want to consider. If you’re dedicated and patient, it’s easier to change the system from the inside than from the outside because outsiders who advocate for change really don’t understand how to affect the change they desire.
I will also take this opportunity to say the vast majority of government employees are hardworking, dedicated individuals. They’re not sitting around watching the clock and crashing the doors to go home at 5:00 P.M. A lot of government employees work hard and perform jobs that are difficult, undesirable and sometimes dangerous. These individuals are your neighbors, friends and fellow taxpayers who have the same hopes and desires as anyone working anywhere.