As of July 7, 2020, the Orange County emergency operations center has been activated for 117 days.
It’s an unprecedented time.
Among the law enforcement officers and members of Lynx and the National Guard sit Carrie Mathes ’08 ‘14MPA and her team: the procurement division. The group’s work may be mostly behind the scenes, but they help the government and all its arms, projects and initiatives survive. “Anything that is needed to run a government, we have the responsibility to acquire,” says Mathes, the procurement manager for Orange County.
When a new park is being built, Mathes and her coordinate the services and resources to make the project happen. The county has a jail, convention center, animal services, a landfill — all of which require various goods and services to remain operable.
“I like the process. I like the rules,” says Mathes, who holds a master’s degree in public administration as well as various credentials related to her job, such as being a certified federal contracts manager and certified professional public buyer. “We’re responsible for awarding over one billion dollars each year. We have a responsibility to make sure that we’re spending the taxpayers’ money wisely and transparently.”
She likes watching the start to finish unfold in the form of a delivery of services and contract signed. “You’re part of something that’s going to help people. It’s very much behind the scenes, but when you see fire trucks rolling down the road and know that you had a part in making that happen, it’s easy to adopt a love for this profession.”
When the coronavirus hit the U.S., Mathes and her team rapidly shifted priorities. As the team that mobilizes the county’s emergency operations center, the procurement division is at the heart of the county’s initiatives against COVID-19.
“What is it that the county needs to respond to this thing? Whether that’s a hurricane or coronavirus,” says Mathes, who has been with Orange County for seven years. “Any time the emergency operations center is activated, we’re some of the first people in and some of the last people to leave.”
With the pandemic, the procurement division began ordering masks, gloves, gowns, hand sanitizer and any other resources that the county needed to respond to COVID-19 and open testing sites. Mathes says that her team is ordering two to three million pieces of product at a time.
If our mayor communicates an initiative to the community, we have the responsibility to ensure it's successful.
In addition to obtaining personal protective equipment for the people facilitating the testing sites around Orange County, Mathes and her team are also ordering products for various initiatives related to COVID-19. The fire department hands out masks when they respond to a call. Individuals who get tested at any of the sites in the county are given a mask and hand sanitizer. Through the Orange County Small Business Initiative, businesses with less than 40 employees — that wouldn’t normally have the funds to purchase personal protective equipment for themselves and their customers — have received 5 million face masks and 750,000 hand sanitizers to date. The county has also donated to local community partners and faith-based organizations.
These staggering numbers and positive feedback from the community don’t come without long hours spent in the emergency operations center, where Mathes and her team have to juggle their normal day-to-day responsibilities as well as the needs of the county in response to COVID-19. When the pandemic really hit the states in March, the procurement division was working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.
“When we started scaling up and doing these distribution initiatives, we were fully staffed all week to make sure that there weren’t any hiccups because it’s important. If our mayor communicates an initiative to the community, we are responsible to ensure its success.”
The successes that Orange County has had with their initiatives has led Mathes to being a consultant to her peers. On the day of our interview, she spoke with someone from the state of Missouri to offer advice, discuss procurement strategies and answer whatever questions she could.
Mathes has also appeared in national webinars that have been organized by associations, such as the American Society for Public Administration and The Institute for Public Procurement. “We’re all in this together. COVID-19 is impacting every part of our country,” says Mathes.
In the webinars she’s participated in, Mathes has stressed the importance of vetting companies selling personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. She guesstimates that her team has vetted over 400 sources. “You have a responsibility to vet the company,” says Mathes. “Is the product that they have a quality that’s sufficient for us to feel comfortable providing to our first responders or handing out to the community?”
As a member of the Central Florida government for 20 years, Mathes expresses nothing short of pride for her job and what her team does. “Being able to get what we need to respond to people and help them stay safe, there’s nothing more fulfilling than that. Knowing that every day, I’m making a difference for my agency and for my community, that’s an amazing feeling. It’s stressful at times, but you have to keep going. We have great successes, so we celebrate those and focus on that momentum to keep going.”