“Politically Correct” Procurement (The Ethical Dilemma)
I know I am a purist when it comes to public procurement, but how far off center do procurement practices have to get before we say, “enough already”? When did “politically correct” procurement replace stewardship of the public trust? Corruption in public procurement isn’t new in our country, but it has never been as arrogantly overt and (apparently) accepted as it is today.
We have become a nation of distrust, intimidation, and fear. And it didn’t happen overnight. When someone speaks out against corruption, those in power skillfully play the deadly game of “Kill the Messenger”, instead of addressing and correcting the perceived problem. If perception is reality, we are in serious trouble.
Halliburton’s non-competitive contract in Iraq is a perfect example of corruption, justified as a politically correct decision, without allowance for further discussion or corrective action. Politically correct for whom? It received some news coverage, with little or no apparent public interest. Either the public doesn’t care or doesn’t know enough to care.
I cringe every time I read or hear of politicians and public officials who presume that they are above the law and use their position and power to make unlawful executive decisions. How about one state department of transportation’s (DOT) arbitrary “bundling” of multiple existing engineering consultant contracts for varied services by arbitrarily and non-competitively adding the out-of-scope services to an existing general consultant contract, “in the interest of efficiency”. That is certainly a politically correct thing to do when the single recipient contractor hires those government employees who made it happen. The same DOT recently awarded similarly bundled contracts to three large firms for a one-year contract, with the option to extend the contracts for up to 19 additional years, for a $19 billion project! When sued by one of the displaced small engineering firms for anticompetitive activity and illegal conflict with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and the state’s procurement code, the state’s assistant attorney general representing the DOT, stated that, “because there were no federal funds involved, and transportation was exempt from the state procurement code, there are no rules governing the project”! Excuse me? I’ve been taught that enabling legislation is required to spend public money. If you have “no rules”, you have “no authority” to spend public funds! I guess that’s not a politically correct thing to say, is it? Thank goodness, no certified public procurement folks were involved. Interestingly, the state’s attorney general has now kicked the defense of the “no rules” contracts to a private law firm. I wonder why. He’s probably running for re-election, and defending the grant of monopolies to “friends” of certain individuals in the DOT wouldn’t be the politically correct thing to do. At least not for that politician.
To go even further, how about the county that fired a procurement officer for revealing unethical contracting practices. The fired procurement officer sued and won in a court of law, but cannot collect because the county is using public funds to appeal and delay fulfillment of the legal judgment. I guess that is the politically correct thing to do if you are the political entity found guilty by the court! I wonder how the taxpayers feel about that.
How about a new governor’s politically directed non-competitive award to a consultant firm to research, recommend, and implement procurement improvements under the guise of “Strategic Sourcing”? The state claimed a cost savings of $11 million, and paid $83 million to achieve it! A certified public procurement professional could have done the same thing for a lot less, if only allowed to do so.
I am especially intrigued by a recent article I read by a public university procurement officer who defended non-competitive “Creative Collaboration”, specifically pertaining to dealing with consortiums. He claims he can get a “screaming deal” that way. I wonder if the potential loss of state and federal grant monies is worth it.
So, what’s my point? If it isn’t legal don’t do it, no matter how politically incorrect that may be!
Editor’s Note: Beau Grant, CPPO, is a Master Instructor for the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIGP) and President of Beau-Geste Enterprises. Readers can reach Grant by e-mail at: [email protected]