Government Open Challenge: Invest in Spend Analysis for Constituents/Savings Programs

There's a good editorial/blog in the online edition of The Guardian highlighting the importance in the UK of creating greater transparency into government spend with third-parties (i.e., vendors or suppliers). In it, Colin Cram argues that the stakes are high considering that in the UK, the government spends "the equivalent of £3500 per adult and child in the UK" or £220 billion in total "purchasing goods and services on our behalf." In the US, it's likely that the number is nearly that high as well, but perhaps not the "20% of gross domestic product" it is in the UK. In the column, Cram succeeds in providing a number of strong arguments in favor of creating government spend transparency such as knowing "spend with every supplier, every category of goods and services, from small to medium enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises, nationally, regionally and locally and variations in between."

This would also allow constituents and government procurement practitioners to "identify common suppliers and departments," discovering whether "some suppliers have been too dominant, spend that has not been through recommended purchasing agreements, and commonalities and differences between different parts of the public sector." Over on Spend Matters UK/Europe, my colleague Peter Smith hints in a recent post that that the idea of building transparency such as this is threatening to the public servant procurement powers that be -- even when a vendor offers to perform such an analysis for free. As a public sector procurement expert, Peter no doubt knows that transparency would likely create justified (and potentially not justified) outrage among politicians and constituents and spending details came to light.

Yet I believe that the massive amounts that governments in the UK and US are spending with third parties requires transparency and greater accountability, and that a higher-level national/Federal spend analysis program is an ideal place to start. Moreover, imagine enriching vendor data with new fields (e.g., no-bid contracts, incumbent retention/awards, campaign contributions from companies/management/boards of directors, etc.). No doubt, voter outrage would likely reach a fever pitch if such data ever came to light. But given that Wall Street analysts and active investors having become more interested in operational efficiency and cost savings within the companies they cover and invest in, shouldn't we expect greater transparency based on how our tax dollars are spent with suppliers as well? After all, we're the ones funding such spending in the first place.

Jason Busch

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