A Lesson From Canada

I frequently post about the problems with “contracting out” by units of government–a process often misnamed “privatization.” (Contracting has also been a focus of my academic research, and my scholarly articles addressing privatization are archived on this blog under “Academic Articles.”)

The bottom line is that sometimes contracting makes sense, and sometimes it doesn’t. But even in situations where contracting is appropriate, the practice raises significant management issues that deserve attention. The “how” is every bit as important as “whether” and “when.”

So I was interested to see that Canada’s Project on Government Oversight recently issued a National Action Plan for Contracting Reform–a proposal that sets out 8 steps intended to “improve government contractor transparency and promote responsible contracting.”

Those steps–which I wholeheartedly endorse–are:

• An improved Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) database.
• Publicly Release Contracting Documents
• Post Contractor Past Performance Reviews on FAPIIS
• Publicly Release the DoD Revolving Door Database
• Publicly Disclose Contractor Political Spending
• Publish an Annual Report on Defense Contracting Fraud
• A requirement for the government to inform FOIA requesters that specific contractor information has been withheld or redacted
• Ending Dun & Bradstreet’s control over how the government uses DUNS data

All of these steps are warranted, but the disclosure of prior performance reviews may be the most important. Units of American government preparing to enter into contracts to deliver services through private providers need to take a page from our neighbor to the north, and require those bidding on government contracts to document their prior performance.

Performance information is especially important when the contracts involve children. In Florida, to its credit, Palm Beach County recently tightened its rules on charter schools by requiring charter school applicants “to disclose any prior history with failed schools and prove they offer innovative programs.”

The underlying premise of government contracting is that the private sector can perform a given service or function more efficiently at the same or lower cost than government. It seems only reasonable to require solid evidence that the contractor can actually do so.


  1. Good points. I have suggested something similar for companies benefiting from tax abatement and economic development funds in exchange for jobs: If the jobs aren’t created, the company pays back the funds with interest. That would require an office or person to track those requests and for the company to submit data.

  2. These points make so much sense until you realize that special interests with lobbying money very likely stop this from happening in our country.

  3. Nancy, the points make sense WHETHER OR NOT special interests will torpedo them. And the fact that we fear that may happen just makes the reform even more essential.

  4. So how do we fix it? The single most important thing we can do now is ensure a democrat is president. We must reform the Supreme Court first, then we can begin to undue the damage corporatists have done.

  5. Or, superman, the corporatist’ system will eventually and inevitably self-destruct. Sooner, or later? I opt for your suggestions: as soon as possible.

  6. OUR government can do most things just fine without outside contractors.
    Government worker. Working under a good Civil Service System.
    No crony BS
    Just honest work for an honest wage.

  7. We spend a lot of time here discussing the various ways in which our liberal democracy is failing, a rich topic by any standard. I opined the other day that we are down to one functional branch of government. There seem to be endless topics that demonstrate to anybody who’s thinking about it that the oligarchy-democracy war has been going against us for some time now. One sense of how badly is the ease with which Sheila finds blatant failures as topics.

    But there’s also the big picture. Our failures not against our standards, the American Dream, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, common sense, gross national happiness, the maintenance of planet A. etc, but compared to our global competition, other liberal democracies.

    We are arguably no longer a first rate country. A leader. The model to emulate. The global gold standard for democracy.

    While we have experienced the great awakening since 2008 how fast and far are we falling behind yearly due to a dysfunctional Congress and Supreme Court. The necessary focus on recovering the economy has the hidden cost of neglecting other important roles of government by absorption into the largely private role of business in order to keep it from falling on its face.

    Canada used to look to the south for guidance. Now, as Sheila points out we must look in all directions to get back to what we used to assume and that was others catching up to us.

    I shudder to think of the consequences of an Executive in the same state of chaos as the other two branches are today, but there is absolutely no guarantee that we won’t be faced with that post 2016.

  8. What kind of justices would Hillary appoint? How long could/would the GOP delay SCOTUS appointments it didn’t like? (and there are none they would like)

    We KNOW the kind Bernie or Liz would name.

  9. The premise that data must be presented to support claims of past performance and proven benefits is a good one. However, who gathers and interprets the data cannot be solely left to the contractor seeking a government contract. There must be an impartial third party involved to verify that the data is not being skewed or selectively done to hide bad performance. The other part of the issue may be corporate entities that enter a contract, default or perform poorly, only to go out of business while morphing into another corporation that presents itself under the best possible light.

  10. Contracting certain jobs out is often just a smokescreen for not paying a living wage, or having low levels of accountability.

  11. Put any one of the Republican hopefuls in the White House and watch what happens to the Supreme Court after some of the expected retirements. A Republican president will NOT veto a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade, to gut Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. They’ve been biting the heels of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) ever since its passage. Listen to the hopefuls’ mantra: “Fix Entitlements”. The Republican Oligarchy has made the word “Entitlements” a dirty word because they fear more revenue is needed. A realigned Supreme Court will help to gut the hard won social contract. And, listen to their promises to “strengthen the military”.

  12. Daleb’s point is well taken, in Fort Wayne we have worked to reform the abatement process to include compliance. It is still quite loose and forgiving of companies who only need cite business conditions as reason for failing to create the promised jobs. But the process is now slightly more transparent than two years ago.

  13. Privatization is simply a cover name for what is really happening . . . Piratization. Nothing more, nothing less.

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