Washington Dispatch No. 6: PWGSC Probe Underlines the Facade of Transparency

Posted on May 31, 2010

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OTTAWA – Public Works and Government Services Canada ordered an investigation into the contracts awarded to an Ottawa real estate consulting firm following allegations of its close relationship with the senior bureaucrat who manages the government’s real estate holdings.

from “Probe ordered into contracts with consultant by Kathryn May, Ottawa Citizen (February 2nd, 2010)

As is often the case, I am usually contacted by various people from the media whenever a purported public sector procurement scandal hits the proverbial fan – Kathryn May by the way is one of my favorite reporters, for my expert opinion on both the basis and merits of the allegations.

Even though we are in the last days of May, the February article referenced above retains its relevancy in that it is representative of the chasmic divide between the blame-deflecting belt with suspenders compliance mindset and an achieving “value for money” result within the government procurement process.

You merely have to refer to our live coverage from the 3rd Annual Business of Government Summit in Washington at the end of April, and in particular my Roundtable discussion on “What is Transparency in Government?” broadcast which featured a highly esteemed expert panel that included the former CIO for the U.S. Federal Government under the Bush Administration Karen Evans, to fully appreciate the contradictory nature of procurement transparency in the public sector.

As I had indicated in the Citizen article, people buy from whom they “know, like and trust.”  This is especially true when the stakes are high in the risk averse public sector.  This axiom not only makes sense, it also underlines the importance of relationships in the procurement process whether in the public or private sectors.

In fact as panelist member Judy Bradt, a Washington-based expert author who has helped more than 6,000 clients win in excess of $300 million US in government contracts so eloquently put it, “the process for winning government contracts is truly based on the ability of a supplier to legitimately and transparently win preference with government buyers.”  Bradt went on to say, that this preferential consideration is gained long before an actual RFP is issued.

There fore, and in reality, transparency is not the holding fast to the illusion of a level playing field, but is achieved through a clear understanding of the layout of the field itself.

Or as I was quoted in the paper, “it’s a facade for the department to launch an investigation into a relationship between suppliers and bureaucrats because all buying – especially in today’s risk-averse public service, comes down to personal relationships.”

Use the following link to access the article by Kathryn May in its entirety: Probe ordered into contracts with consultant.

Remember to also check out our new SlideCast Feature which synchronizes the audio from my Washington Keynote address at the 2010 Government Summit, with the corresponding PowerPoint Slides.

Note: also be sure to continue listening after the presentation for a bonus excerpt of my interview with the then Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day regarding the Canada-U.S. Buy American exemption negotiations.

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