Integrity in Public Procurement Should Not be a Best Kept Secret

Integrity in Public Procurement Should Not be a Best Kept Secret

by David Gragan

Maintaining integrity in public procurement is a crucial responsibility that must not be taken lightly. With today's economic challenges, businesses will more than likely turn up the heat with their generous marketing efforts and unsolicited tokens of appreciation to public officials.  That is why, as stewards of one of the most important functions in government, procurement leaders must do everything in their power to enhance integrity in public procurement and shield their organizations and personnel from any hint of impropriety.  Unfortunately, the contracting function has sometimes been the target of fraud, corruption and abuse, with procurement leaders then left to find ways to restore trust with stakeholders in the overall success of the procurement process - the most important being the public.

Ethical lapses, whether purposeful or innocent at their core, ultimately undermine public trust in the entire procurement system.  In Washington, DC City Government, we have faced many challenges in our efforts to restore trust in a government that has been affected scandals.  While few of those scandals had a direct relationship to procurement, the indirect impact ultimately cast a negative shadow on the entire procurement workforce. Residents saw these scandals as examples of greed, corruption and abuse of power.   

At a time when questions surrounded the District's procurement practices, new substantive reform initiatives emerged.  The central procurement office for the District government established an Office of Procurement Integrity and Compliance, which conducts audits, contract reviews, and contract compliance monitoring. Additionally, the agency partners annually with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the District's Office of the Inspector General to deliver mandatory procurement ethics training for its entire workforce and Contracting Officer's Technical Representatives (COTRs).  The training provides employees with information on various aspects of contracting ethics and how to seek help in the event that they observe questionable behavior. Employees are also required to sign an affidavit each year stating that they have read, understand and will adhere to the organization's code of ethics. 

To ensure transparency, the agency is utilizing technology by posting every purchase order awarded in the last five years on its website, as well as all discretionary purchases made on the District issued credit cards.  The agency also conducts live broadcasts, transmitted over the Internet, of every bid opening which allows every interested party the opportunity to view the process. Finally, the agency has undertaken the task of posting the agency's code of conduct in the offices of every contracting official authorized to obligate public funds to ensure that the message of ethics is always visible, foremost in our minds and the minds of our visitors, and cannot be lost.

While we recognize that we have come a long way, we fully understand that more needs to be done. Perception is a pretty big deal in our Nation's Capital.  But, isn't that true for each of us in our jurisdictions and agencies?  As a profession, we must make every effort to ward off any attempts by the few dishonest to undermine the good work of the overwhelming majority of honest contracting professionals. Protecting the integrity of procurement takes focus and energy, but the rewards are worth every penny that we so carefully protect.       

We can take pride in our membership in the National Contract Management Association, an organization that strongly supports integrity and ethics in the government contracting profession.  Through our Professional Standards and Ethics Committee, and the leadership of our Board of Directors, we will continue to stress the importance of this most fundamental tenet of public acquisition.  NCMA has established guidelines (available at ncmahq.org) entitled the Contract Management Code of Ethics that can serve as a useful point of training and discussion for any company or government agency in this area.

 

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