Illinois Reverse Auctions Redux — When Journalists Selectively Quote to Skew Stories

Last week, I penned a column suggesting a number of reasons why my home state of Illinois should pursue a reverse auctioning tender process for significant portions of its spend in an attempt to drive transparency amidst a long bipartisan history of corrupt contracting. Academic and reverse auction expert David Wyld -- who I first encountered at FreeMarkets many years ago when he was conducting primary research in the area -- wrote a follow-up to my post in a column that shared some alarming news about the story that I was not aware of. According to Prof. Wyld, "As the head of the Reverse Auction Research Center and one of the leading academic experts in the area, I was interviewed by the story's author, Paul Merrion." Yet his quotations and perspective did not make it into the piece.

In Prof. Wyld's words, the author "chose not to use my material and my quotes on the benefits of reverse auctions for the public sector and lots of details that I provided to him on what has been done successfully by national, state and local governments by shifting procurement spending to reverse auctions and introducing competitive bidding to replace opaque processes and 'good old boy' deals." Rather, according to Dr. Wyld, Crain's opted to use the "insights," of Dr. Robert Emiliani, who has built a career -- and a book of consulting and research business -- by railing against auctions in favor of lean principals.

He notes that "What Mr. Merrion chose to do instead was to feature the 'insights' of Dr. Robert Emiliani ... As anyone who has followed the reverse auction market knows, Dr. Emiliani has been a long-time critic of reverse auctions, and while so, Mr. Merrion chose not to include any of my mostly pro-reverse auction material/quotes, while allowing Dr. Emiliani to offer his opinion." If Crain's had done their homework on Dr. Emiliani -- even just reading some of the archives from Spend Matters -- they would have learned that he is known for presenting a single-sided view of the argument, seeking press and coverage by offering an incomplete and unbalanced view of the role of reverse auctions in both the public and private sector. Moreover, they probably would have discovered that he has benefited financially from taking such an aggressively negative stance by advancing his own practices and services as an alternative.

Thank you, Prof. Wyld, for sharing the true story of the sloppy and one-sided reporting in the Crain's story. Given that I'm on the line for what promises to be a rising tax bill in Illinois, I don't intend to drop this issue anytime soon. Even though they're far from perfect -- and far from ever being a universal sourcing approach -- reverse auctions could not be a better fit to expose the past malfeasance within this state.

Jason Busch

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