Feds trim down IT procurement policy

The Treasury Board of Canada released today the results of an independent review of its procurement policies that have drawn smiles from ITAC, one of the previous critics of proposed procurement policy changes.

Robert Dye, president and COO of the Purchasing Management Association of Canada, was commissioned in the wake of the heated meetings between PWGSC and IT industry stakeholders last summer to, according to a Treasury Board press release, “review the draft procurement policy and provide recommendations to strengthen it.”

The report is quite favourable toward the draft Treasury Board Policy on Managing Procurement. According to the report, “After conducting a document review and consulting with a range of stakeholders, it is the conclusion of the reviewer that the new draft policy supports the government’s stated intent of achieving fairness, openness, and transparency in procurement.”

It also states “in public procurement, trade-offs must be made among the sometimes competing goals of best value, socio-economic outcomes, openness and competition, integrity and transparency, and responsible management.”

The new policy could be an optimal setting for these types of trade-offs, as there are far fewer set rules to obey — it is now principles-based, and has been whittled down to eight pages from the previous policy’s 200-plus pages.

“This is a new approach, and it’s pretty refreshing to see smart regulations that reflect the real world… We’re very happy with it,” said ITAC president and CEO, Bernard Courtois.

Howard Grant, president of Ottawa-based procurement management firm Partnering & Procurement Inc., is not so happy with it. “The federal government has gone backwards from a procurement point of view. It’s a stool with three legs: the clients, industry, and PWGSC. It’s not in balance, and that’s a huge problem,” he said.

Grant thinks that the new guidelines do nothing to get at what he see as the government’s fundamental misstep. “PWGSC is driving the bus and the bus is low cost with no view of the best value,” he said.

Courtois also expressed frustration with the government’s focus on the short-term: “It’s frustrating as an industry — no-one can object to the government saving money for taxpayers, but when you see procurement policies that drive the prices for pieces down but the overall costs are high…”

But according to Courtois, this guidelines are a great step, as the shorter, principles-based guidelines (unlike the stricter, more detailed Policy of old) offers the flexibility to do the best thing on a case-by-case basis — including the reverse auctions that caused such an uproar when they were proposed in the last draft. “It’s not e-auctions for everything,” said Courtois. “Reverse auctions can be the best for a particular type of product.”

One process that has drawn the tech sector’s wrath is the previous suggestion to dole out exclusive contracts or limit the number of competitors in procurement competitions, a move which many have seen as a possible death knell for small and mid-sized businesses who go up against enterprise for government contracts. The report states that one of its key recommendations is “that the government incorporate select best practices from the private sector, including alternatives to full competition among suppliers.”

In defending the possible benefits of this, Courtois referred to the flexibility of the new guidelines and their ability to allow the government to match the best procurement practices with each project, saying that a limited competition could be the right thing to do, if it was the right fit for that particular tender.

“This report is not advocating that they automatically omit a number of competitors, just to be more open to it,” Courtois said. “It’s like in the private sector — you develop relationships with certain suppliers who offer the best solution.”

According to the press release, many of the recommendations have been incorporated into the draft policy, although it doesn’t specify which ones.

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