Listener Feedback RE CFIB Interview: Personal Preferences Guide Senior Bureaucrats Contract Bundling Inclinations

Posted on May 18, 2009


One of the most interesting comments I received regarding my interview with CFIB VP Corinne Pohlmann was sent in by a senior public official whose only caveat for sharing their feedback with the Procurement Insights readership was a promise of confidentiality.

While I always prefer a full disclosure relative to sources, working on what at times are highly incendiary stories such as the Veterans Health Administration’s failed Oracle and JD Edwards initiatives – which cost taxpayers $650 million US, or gaining access to the internal reports referencing the Government of Canada’s eroding supply base, makes confidentiality a key element of getting to the facts.

Based on this reality, I truly do understand the need for discretion.  I am also thankful that bureaucrats are willing to come forward, especially those who are from the upper echelons of the public sector hierarchy to share their honest insights.

On this basis, I am happy to share the following with you:

“Sorry I missed out on the live show.  I did just finish listening to the recorded version and really enjoyed it.

As you can imagine, the theme to the issues that Corinne shared fit our own history here and apply to all government.  From the government perspective I think that the issues reflect that constant split-personality problem of public procurement . . . get the most for the least and at the same time remember the social obligations relative to everyone (i.e. suppliers) having an opportunity to “play.”

In the push to try and make government align itself with the operating principles of the private sector, buyers and contract officers can easily fall into the trap of consolidating purchases into massive contracts because of the focus on guaranteeing lowest price, best product and fastest delivery.  Clearly this leads to fewer, and often bigger, suppliers.

With the added aversion to risk, public sector purchasing professionals are often put in an untenable position.  And while not the whole reason for the problem, I think that it is important to remember what and/or who puts the buyers in this position . . . the policies and the elected officials who are driving hard to validate their own programs and agendas.

This cross purposes of policies and operational practicalities is further exacerbated by the prevalent belief that buyers are more of an impediment rather than enablers because purchasing rules that expand competition won’t allow these “bosses” to pick the supplier with whom they want to deal.  In fact, the majority feel that a more expanded competitive environment actually forces them to navigate through an elongated bid process to get to where they want to go.

This all too common scenario was clearly demonstrated in a recent session I had with a very senior technology government executive who said to everyone in attendance “I hate procurement!”  He explained his disenchantment by telling us that “they” were holding him back from getting the initiatives and innovations for which he was hired completed.  In reality he concluded, I want to target the vendors with whom I am familiar and are capable of doing the job I want, the way I want without the hurdles associated with opening the doors to the competitive bid process.  He was further frustrated by the fact that many of the vendors with which he had hoped to deal were in actuality what he considered to be small businesses and therefore met the intent of the policies associated with SME engagement – especially since he was not looking to deal with the big guys.

From my perspective, a key part of helping government to “get the message” regarding the importance of achieving the necessary balance between realizing the best deal and providing all vendors with the chance to play is through increased awareness.  If this objective isn’t included as a core part of both a business and management strategy from the start, the continuing conflict will only further the public’s negative perception of the bureaucracy we call government.”

I cannot help but wonder to what extent the above scenario is representative of procurement practices in the public sector in general.  While private sector companies are usually not encumbered by the same challenges of balancing best outcomes with socially driven imperatives such as an all encompassing access requirement, in reality all enterprises regardless of being private or public derive significant benefits through a dynamically expanding supply base in which the majority of vendors are engaged.

This edict is of course not limited to only dealing with SME suppliers, as reported in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen.  In this instance, PWGSC’s delay in issuing an RFP for a $1 billion relocation services contract involving large suppliers such as Royal LePage has sparked a furious debate relative to the implications that the delay was a deliberate attempt to favor one particular vendor.

Situations such as these only go to further damage the already tarnished reputation of PWGSC and draws into question their ability to fairly and responsibly oversee centrally driven programs such as the heavily scrutinized (and criticized) Shared Services strategy.

PI Window on Business Special Broadcast (For Want of a Nail: The Pandemic Effect)

Be sure to mark Tuesday, May 26th on your calendars so that you will remember to tune in to the first of four PI Window on Business 90-minute Specials.  In this initial Special titled “For Want of a Nail: The Pandemic Effect,” I will be joined by Nick Kelley, a researcher from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and the lead author of the November 2008 white paper “Pandemic Influenza, Electricity, and the Coal Supply Chain (Addressing Crucial Preparedness Gaps in the United States), to discuss the true nature of the latest swine flu crisis in terms of its potential impact on supply chains.  It is a show you will not want to miss!

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