Talking Public Procurement with Public Spend Forum’s Editor, Jonathan Messinger

In honor of Public Spend Forum's launch day, here is a Q&A with the site editor, Jonathan Messinger, on the current state of public sector procurement, areas for improvement, and his vision for the blog.

Spend Matters: What was the thinking behind launching a site specifically on public procurement?

Jonathan Messinger: As a former journalist walking into the world of public procurement with wide eyes, the amount of money coursing through the system was nearly blinding. The federal government alone spends $500 billion annually, which essentially makes it the largest buyer in the whole world. And yet, as I've been talking with practitioners and the bright minds over at Censeo Consulting Group, there's definitely a lag from what the public sector is doing and what the private sector is able to achieve. Part of that is due to the various restrictions on taxpayer money, but some of that is just because the more advanced strategies haven't worked their way into government agencies yet.

So I think there's a huge opportunity here to have an ongoing conversation with the public sector procurement community (and that means practitioners, vendors, and policymakers), about what works best, how to implement those best practices, and how to make the system work better for taxpayers. The true public service angle of the site is really exciting to me.

Spend Matters: What are some topics readers can expect to see in the next couple months?

Jonathan Messinger: One of the topics we'll be talking a lot about (and what I'm personally very interested in) is the true value of public sector procurement. In other words, beyond just cost savings, how can procurement contribute to government's mission of serving the public (i.e. working with small or minority-owned businesses, working with innovative suppliers, etc.)? We'll also be looking at best practices, how to balance oversight of spend while still being operationally effective, optimizing regulation of public procurement, and focusing beyond the federal government to state and local agencies. And of course, a whole lot more.

Spend Matters: What is the current state of public procurement, and which areas are in greatest need of improvement?

Jonathan Messinger: In talking with practitioners, it's clear that a big problem in public procurement is a lack of coordination or centralization. For instance, a single government agency could have nearly 50 cell-phone contracts with 10 different providers, because the various offices throughout the country have purchased their own instead of coming together to leverage the size of the agency as a single buyer. There are also a lot of capabilities in the private sector that are just now entering the public sphere. So a lot of notions around strategic sourcing, category management, and supplier relation management, just to name a few, are still in their early phases. Public Spend Forum hopes to open up that conversation, to help move things forward.

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