The Open Market

Sharing information with vendors is the best way to ensure an open market.

A

s the federal government fosters openness and communication with its contractors, the concept of transparent procurement systems is taking hold around the globe. Procurement professionals and policy officials from more than 100 nations have met in various countries to exchange lessons and ideas.

In January, the World Trade Organization and World Bank gathered representatives from more than two dozen nations for a workshop in Tanzania on public procurement. Scores of nations, led by the World Trade Organization, are working toward a multilateral agreement to promote transparency in government procurement.

Transparent procurement systems broadcast the rules of the game. The United States, for example, makes procurement laws and regulations available in public libraries and on the Internet. The government widely advertises its needs and selection criteria through its official procurement Web site, FedBizOpps (www.fedbizopps.gov). Agencies announce award decisions, explain selection decisions through debriefings, and publish the outcomes of challenges by disgruntled bidders. Citizens can learn which firms received the government's business through the General Services Administration's Federal Procurement Data System.

SHEDDING LIGHT

Transparency describes the ability to see through all phases of the procurement process. It implies that everyone can play and anyone can win. Transparent systems still can favor certain players, such as domestic firms or small businesses-as our government often does-but those preferences are disclosed.

Transparency fosters competition by giving contractors insight into the selection process. Competition means better deals for governments.Transparency breeds efficiency by allowing government buyers and private sellers to share successes or failures. And it promotes public trust in government.

By helping producers of goods and services, exporters and importers conduct their business, the World Trade Organization hopes to show policy-makers and legislators the value of transparent governing. The benefits of transparency in procurement are a function of economics, not politics. Robert Hunja, senior procurement specialist at the World Bank, encourages developing countries to embrace effective advertising of procurement opportunities, a public bid process, disclosure of information on contractor evaluation and award procedures, and enforcement rights.

Technology can accelerate that process. "From Chile and Brazil to South Korea and India, the spread of e-government involves increasing use of the Internet to disseminate public information and to open up the bidding process," says Transparency International, a global watchdog organization that is active in more than 90 countries. Brazil's successful electronic procurement portal, ComprasNet, frequently is held up as a model of both transparency and efficiency.

IN THE SHADOWS

The United States has been a path-breaker and model for transparent procurement. But that's becoming less true. Our procurement system, and possibly our government, is drifting toward the shadows.

Each year, the public loses more insight into federal spending. The increased use of government purchase cards is one example. Without the steady stream of GAO reports highlighting trends in purchase card use and abuses, the public would know little about how the government spends its money. The proliferation of task order and delivery contracts, which require no advertising for potential bidders, and the use of acquisition flexibilities have resulted in a dearth of information about government purchases. These procurement tools are designed to cut red tape and increase efficiency, but in many ways they limit opportunities to share lessons and compete for business.

The U.S. Agency for International Development's reconstruction contracts in Iraq offer a textbook example. Early this year, AID quietly invited a few highly competent contractors to compete for eight multimillion-dollar contracts covering a wide range of activities including stevedoring operations, logistics, public school revitalization, public health and construction of roads, public buildings, hospitals and schools. Watchdog groups, foreign contractors, and the news media promptly trumpeted various conspiracy theories involving elected officials, campaign contributions and oil concerns.

People need proof that their government is fair to vendors and gets the best value. Critics say too much transparency limits the pursuit of efficiency and best value. It's true that buyers need flexibility to spend tax dollars wisely. But it's incumbent on them to show the public how wisely they used that flexibility. Without information, public trust is tenuous.

Good government depends on transparency. Marginal, if not ephemeral, savings fail to justify backsliding on this fundamental principle. A procurement system that undervalues public trust is no bargain.


X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.