No good solution for oversight of government contracting
There is no question that in DC, the fact that City Council has final approval over DC Government contracts of $1 million or more creates opportunities for "suasion", contract steering, corruption, and other problems.
Examiner columnist Jonetta Rose Barras in "Getting out of the contract business," thinks it's time for DC City Council to get out of the contract approval business for exactly those reasons, to reduce (not eliminate) such problems. Her column is in response to legislation put forward by CM Jack Evans to end the practice of final approval by DC Council on such contracts--"Evans moves to end DC Council approval of big city contracts."
From the article:
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he thought Evans' measure, which to become law would require a citywide vote and approval by Congress if it clears the council, would hurt a system already beset by close ties to contractors.
"I recognize that is vulnerable to abuse, but then again, much of the legislative process can be abused through special-interest legislation and through favors that are not readily recognized by the public," Mendelson said. "None of that's good, but that's not a reason to weaken the process."
Mendelson said that even "passive approval" of contracts has led to results for city taxpayers. "We have the leverage to get information and to bring issues to light and to ensure that contracts comply with District law," he said.
On the other hand, it's not like the Executive Branch doesn't avail itself of opportunities for "suasion," contract steering, corruption, and other problems either. (And it happens in other cities too. DC is not exceptional, sadly.)
It happens with every Administration, and despite all the encomiums about Adrian Fenty being such a great mayor, his Administration was particularly focused on controlling contracting opportunities such as:
- dissolving the National Capital Reinvestment Corporation and the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation and putting those responsibilities into the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development
- using a nonprofit affiliate of the DC Housing Authority to do intra-government contracting to avoid Council scrutiny over large contracts ("Fenty's friend's firm got millions after D.C. ended contract," and "Will Fenty change his tune on parks contracts?," Post).
- steering contracts to new "friends" who hadn't traditionally benefited from government contracting largesse which is why the old crew who were particularly worried about losing contracts, people like Jeffrey Thompson (and other Vincent Gray supporters) were so motivated to get someone other than Adrian Fenty in as Mayor. (Mr. Thompson allegedly funded an off the books and therefore illegal shadow campaign and get-out-the-vote effort for the election).
Not to mention ongoing problems with the Office of Contracting and Procurement and the ability to shape their decisions, and the creation of a new massive Department of General Services to handle all DC Government real estate under the Gray Administration, which likely will be problematic as well.
I don't have a solution to the problem of legislative interference
But reducing oversight over the contracting process is not the solution. Maybe it should just be an up or down vote, but the whole process of contracting deserves a deeper look greater than that encapsulated in the legislation offered by CM Evans.
Table of Contents from the book Corrupt Cities by Robert Klitgaard, Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, and H. Lindsey Parris
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF CORRUPTION
WHAT IS “CORRUPTION” AND WHY IS IT HARMFUL?
WHY IS CORRUPTION SUCH A SALIENT ISSUE TODAY?
WHY DO MANY EFFORTS TO COMBAT CORRUPTION FAIL?
2. FORMULATING A STRATEGY
EXAMPLE OF A PREVENTIVE STRATEGY
HOW TO FORMULATE A STRATEGY
3. CORRUPTION AS A SYSTEM
AN ECONOMIC APPROACH TO CORRUPTION
CORRUPTION AS A CRIME OF CALCULATION
A FRAMEWORK FOR POLICY ANALYSIS
APPLYING THE FRAMEWORK TO HONG KONG
THE EXAMPLE OF PROCUREMENT
4. ASSESSING CORRUPTION
What Participatory Diagnosis Is
How Participatory Diagnosis Might Be Carried Out
TECHNICAL STUDIES AND EXPERIMENTS
INVOLVING THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND CITIZENS
5. IMPLEMENTING REFORM
ORGANIZE THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
PICK LOW-HANGING FRUIT
ALIGN WITH FAVORABLE FORCES
RUPTURE THE CULTURE OF IMPUNITY
Fry Big Fish
Make a Splash
SOME BUREAUCRATIC TACTICS
Begin with Something Positive
Emphasize Information and Incentives
6. CONCLUSIONS AND EXTENSIONS
THE FIRST BATTLE OF LA PAZ
SUMMARY OF STEPS FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION
INFORMATION AND INCENTIVES
APPENDIX ON CORRUPTION IN PROCUREMENT
A STYLIZED FOUR-STEP PROCUREMENT PROCESS
TYPES OF CORRUPTION THAT CHARACTERIZE EACH STEP
CONDITIONS MOST CONDUCIVE TO CORRUPTION
INDICATORS OF POTENTIALLY CORRUPT ACTIVITY
RECENT WORK ON PROCUREMENT
SECOND ORDER EFFECTS