During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, state procurement officials found themselves in an unprecedented situation, scrambling to acquire diminishing supplies of life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE). During a session of the 2021 CSG National Conference, presented by The National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO), state leaders got a front-row seat to learn more about the challenges of COVID and how to prepare for the next pandemic.

NASPO recently completed a two-phase procurement tabletop exercise, which brought together NASPO members and partners to discuss pandemic response: what worked well and what could have been more efficient? An after-action report was created that includes checklists of what needs to happen in the event of an emergency.

NASPO Chief Jen Salts, chief administrative officer, said the competitive atmosphere took state leaders by surprise during the early days of the pandemic.

“The length they would go to to secure PPE and ventilators — it was shocking to me,” she said. “Our members are very supportive of one another. There’s a healthy level of competition. But we were just not prepared to see what those representatives were willing to do to secure those purchases in the early days.”

NASPO CEO Lindle Hatton said that the competitive atmosphere is one of the lessons state leaders should take away from COVID.

“When a disaster hits, it’s every person for themselves,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, but a lesson learned from this. Develop networks to be strong, but when the rubber hits the road, all that’s off. You are there to serve your constituency as best you can.”

Salts also observed that the ongoing nature of the public health crisis was not something most state leaders were prepared for. States that are engaged in disaster response expect difficult early days, with an end in sight. COVID, however, didn’t offer hope of imminent relief, but state leaders rose to the challenge.

“Our folks were unprepared for that and had not been conditioned for those types of long hours — 18 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “I’m so incredibly proud of the professionals throughout this country. They really stepped up when we needed them.”

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