Doing Delegations Right
My colleague and friend Jim O’Neill suggested that I write about the delegation of procurement authority, since delegating procurement authority correctly presents both an opportunity and a challenge for those who hold responsibility for procurement programs in public entities of all sizes. The pressure on public procurement programs to do more with less will grow, and we will have to increase the use of delegated procurement and other coping strategies that can present serious risks if done poorly.
There is much more to delegating procurement authority properly than a written document that stipulates everything it should. Perhaps most important is assuring the qualifications of the department and the individuals to whom procurement authority is to be delegated. However rational we are when deciding to whom delegations of authority should be made and for what and how long, the ability of chief procurement officials to exercise proper judgment in the specific circumstances will be critical.
My high-level standard was to satisfy myself of the trustworthiness of each department and individual being considered for a delegation of authority. The operational definition I used for trustworthiness was essentially the same one we all use when assessing a bidder: i.e., that the organization or individual being considered for a delegation of procurement authority had the complete capability and capacity in all respects to perform the delegation of authority and the integrity and reliability to assure good faith performance.
I would then consider more specific criteria, which at the organizational level included the culture, reputation, and track record of the agency for whom a delegation of authority was being considered. I would also consider the reputation and track record of the person or persons to whom a delegation of procurement authority was being considered as well their values, personal traits, general and business competencies, and general and entity-specific procurement competencies.
No organization or individual ever received a perfect score, and I never made a perfect assessment. The pool of organizational and individual candidates was what it was, I was who I was, and several environmental constraints, in addition to my bounded rationality, mitigated against perfect decisions. Time pressures, internal politics, and several other elements were always present.
So, how can we assure that we make the best possible delegations of procurement authority? We must consider at a sufficient level of depth and detail whether and how to issue delegations that will practical and strategic value. And, we must monitor and, as necessary, modify or withdraw those delegations.