Learn Common Procurement Processes and Key AP Terms

Learn about common procurement processes and key terms for Accounts Payable at Columbia University. 


Administrators are responsible for complying with the University’s procurement policies and processes. Specifically, they must comply with the University’s purchasing policies and procedures, which are available in at University Policies.

In addition, when procuring with federally awarded funds, Administrators must comply with U.S. government regulations such as the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and OMB Circular A-110. It is the responsibility of PIs, Administrators, and their designees to be familiar with the funding agencies’ requirements. They must ensure that federal funds are not used to buy from federally debarred vendors and are not used for prohibited and restricted goods and services. 

Administrators are encouraged to take full advantage of the resources offered by the Purchasing Office in order to obtain the best possible value for every expenditure of University funds. CU Purchasing facilitates the purchasing process by negotiating University-wide Purchasing Agreements (UwPAs), serving as a resource to schools and their units as they are preparing to make purchases, and working cooperatively with purchasers to ensure that larger purchases are controlled, executed, and consistently documented in accordance with the University’s policies.

In addition, Administrators may wish to consult with Accounts Payable regarding disbursements, and Internal Audit regarding internal controls and conflict of interest.

Things to Remember

  • Follow sponsor restrictions on procurement and obtain prior approval from the funding agency when required.
  • Whenever possible, use the proper University purchasing mechanism.
  • Use P-Cards as the preferred purchasing mechanism for most goods and minor equipment valued at $2,500 or less, and for certain larger purchases that do not require a Central Purchase Order
  • Do not break up purchases into smaller transactions in order to avoid purchasing requirements for large-dollar procurements.
  • When stated competitive requirements are not met, document the extenuating circumstances as part of creating a requisition.
  • Prior to processing payments, verify that the requested goods and services have been received in accordance with the contract documents.

Administrators should be aware that the use of UwPAs is strongly recommended at Columbia University. UwPAs are suppliers that have been awarded a University contract through a competitive or negotiated process managed by CU Purchasing and maintain a “Preferred” supplier status at Columbia. Benefits of utilizing a UwPA are:

  • Easier access to these suppliers through designated customer service and sales representatives
  • Ability to place orders at higher transaction limits that do not require CU Purchasing review or approval
  • Enhanced service levels
  • Better than competitive pricing
  • UwPAs can be found through the Buying Guide

The University uses purchase orders and other mechanisms such as credit/purchasing cards (P-Cards), checks, or cash to purchase goods and services on the University’s behalf for business purposes.

Administrators are responsible for ensuring that the most appropriate University mechanism is used when purchasing goods and services with University funds.

The University’s Procurement Mechanisms Policy is designed to maximize the efficiency and convenience of the purchasing process, consistent with good business practices, and in full compliance with applicable regulations.  The policy provides guidance concerning the choice of the most appropriate procurement mechanism, as summarized in the sub-sections below.  Of special note:

  • Those engaged in purchasing should be thoroughly familiar with the full text of the policy and should also review the University’s Buying Guide, which assists with selecting the best mechanism for procurement of products, services, and vendors.
  • University policy forbids splitting large dollar-amount purchases into multiple installations to allow use of procurement mechanisms such as petty cash and P-Cards that exist to facilitate small transactions.  For instance, a supply bulk order must not be broken into multiple orders.
  • For procurement associated with international projects, please see the International Operations website.

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