Sunday, August 07, 2011

Chico writer on ethical government contracting


The rancorous debate over the Federal debt ceiling reminds us afresh that decisions made in Washington often have profound effects on Main Street. That includes billions of dollars paid to private companies by government entities contracting for needed goods and services. With so much money changing hands, the temptation to "nefarious, amateurish, and criminal behavior" is ever present. William Sims Curry, a Chico-based government contract consultant (, addresses the issue head on.

"Government Contracting: Promises and Perils" ($69.95 in hardcover from CRC Press) provides "best practices" for those doing business with the government. Written "primarily from the government perspective," the book "includes recommendations for actions for contractors to avoid government sanctions, corporate fines, seizure of employee assets, and suspension or debarment of contractors." Though careful to praise the vast majority of contractors (and government officials), Curry focuses on negative examples where the process has gone off the rails, including Boeing scandals and the FEMA response to hurricane Katrina.

The book is technical in nature, dealing with contract processes; decisions about "sole source" or competitive bids; social objectives through contracting; proposal solicitation, evaluation, administration and auditing; and contracting during emergencies. A CD is included with the book presenting many of the forms and other document referred to in the text. But the lay reader may find the discussion fascinating, especially in contemplating the "government procurement corruption wall of shame," which includes bribery, abuse of power, contract fraud, ineptitude, partiality, poor planning, larceny, and more.

For Curry, the key to honesty in the contracting process is having a transparent process to begin with. It's not as easy as one might think. For example, if several contractors bid on a project, one company might have better management and past performance, but another might have better technical competence and be cheaper. Unless the criteria can be boiled down into a single number, it's likely losing contractors will file protests.

Curry notes that emergencies often lead to single source contracting, but that's often a mistake. "Obtaining competitive proposals or bids does not necessarily slow the contracting process because a solicitation can be sent concurrently to multiple prospective contractors." Though the company selected may not be the least expensive, competitive pressures may lower overall bids. Something to remember when the envelopes are opened.

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