Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

The Need for Better Stewardship over the Money Government Spends

When bad things happen in government procurement, the real culprits too often are officials who fail to exercise the oversight they should.

When a water main breaks in your town, what does the local government do? Other than responding to the break with the appropriate emergency services, the municipality works to replace the broken main. Companies are asked to bid for the job based on the cost of pipes, other materials and labor. Officials then award a contract that delivers the best work for the best price.

That's the way procurement is supposed to work. However, this isn't always the case, and too often the real culprit is poor oversight by elected officials.

The competitive bidding that most procurement regulations require aims to ensure that taxpayers are getting the best quality product or service at the lowest price, and it supports accountability in government. In some cases, however, there are services or products that can only be purchased from a single company. This "sole-source procurement" is usually done when the product or service is a specialty item and no other company can provide it at a reasonable price.

Both approaches to procurement have their place, but both are subject to unethical behavior, such as when department heads or government workers grease the skids for companies with which they have personal or professional relationships or when the competitive-bidding process is bypassed improperly.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, for example, recently announced a $4.2 million settlement with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to resolve alleged procurement-law violations involving the award of a $14 million contract to a Virginia company without competitive bidding.

And in January of this year, a public-works supervisor for Miami-Dade County was convicted of taking $13,000 worth of household appliances in exchange for using his influence to ensure that the department purchased the supplier's lighting products. Worse, the employee who had held the same job before that supervisor had been charged with taking bribes from the same lighting company.

What the Miami-Dade case illustrates is a lack of oversight for a position with authority over the spending of taxpayer funds. The only way to curb this type of unethical behavior is for elected officials to look closely at the procurement process and hold department heads accountable for the choices that they and those they supervise make. As for sole-source contracting, it is important for elected officials to regularly reexamine such procurements to confirm that what is being purchased is indeed still hard to obtain or for some other reason cannot be subject to competitive bidding.

Most government employees are not susceptible to unethical procurement temptations even when there is relaxed oversight. But there will always be some who will be tempted to take advantage of a system that lacks the necessary safeguards and stewardship by elected officials.

It is estimated that government procurement on the local, state and federal levels accounts for $7 trillion in spending annually. When that much taxpayer money is on the line, elected officials must provide efficient procurement processes, but they also must exercise careful oversight. The right way to handle taxpayer money is diligently and carefully.

Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.