“A little bit easier”… Idea: Government Procurement Tools & Scorecard

As the marketplace for government innovation grows, governments have access to new, diverse, and efficient vendors. In this market, however, structural barriers often impede the pace of delivery. Most notably are the rules and regulations around purchasing: procurement.

The growth of reform organizations indicates an appetite for change within governments, specifically cities. Yet, there is no clear industry-wide guidance on how specifically to reform procurement; it’s just generally stated as “broken” without specific diagnoses of where and — just as importantly — what to do about it. This frustrates government officials willing to go to work fixing procurement.

Here’s an idea.

Let’s make a simple “Procurement Scorecard,” both an assessment tool and actionable recommendations for city governments to ease the process for new vendors to work with them. This would be a kind of forcing function.

Proven Model

Much like with the growth of open data and the open data census, I’d hope this to start a kind of “race to the top” for procurement reform.

Screen Shot of US Open Data Cities Census

Just like the open data census gave cities guidance on what and how to open up data, a similar procurement scorecard would recommend changes to their purchasing systems — in clear, actionable ways.

But that, the hard part. It’s easy to say, “let’s change procurement.” It’s hard to say here’s a proven framework to assess where you are and where you are heading for developing a modern acquisition apparatus.

So that’s why I’m looking outward, to the broader civic innovation community, to see if there’s an appetite for this conversation. To the point, can we come together on some basic principle and guidelines? Can we outline clear and action steps for cities to take? And can we do so quickly and usefully enough to make a difference?

I’m betting the answer is yes.

So here’s a starter set of examples for folks to start to think about; these may be trivial but I’ve heard them time and time again, and — more importantly — they fit the criteria of clear and actionable recommendations:

Example Reforms/Assessment Criteria

  • Posting all RFPs online & accepting bids online
  • Allowing pooled insurance for smaller firms to share liability and insurance costs
  • Eliminating unnecessary / irrelevant insurance requirements (e.g. auto insurance for SaaS vendors)

So there are three. Can we get 7 more?

Think about this like there’s a clock on it — because there is. And don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

A Little Bit Easier

The philosophy junky in me struggles with that last bit. I’d think we should work on some wholesale rethinking of public acquisition, starting with policy, personnel, and processes reform, and then later get into the weeds on simple improvements.

But then I’m reminded of two things. First was a conversation with a innovation leader in a major US city. After hours of conversation, she languished, “Stop telling me to fix procurement, and start telling me what to do.”

The second — which for anyone who knows me will understand — comes from the West Wing. After a tumultuous trip back from the Midwest to D.C. two White House seniors staffers reflect on a conversation they had with a random passerby in a hotel airport. Long story short, he was looking at schools for his daughter and profoundly worried about his ability to afford it. He had a simple ask: can we make it a little bit easier?

I’ve used that as my rallying cry for changing governments: make it just a little bit better for people. Because any improvement, no matter how seemingly small to the operator, has profound effects on the user.

So here’s my ask. Instead of complaining about how broken procurement is, instead of using that as our barrier to trying anything, instead of using that as our reason to say no, let’s try — together — to make it just a little bit easier, just a little bit better.