IN MY OPINION
Ah, sweet mystery of procurement …
(To be sung, a cappella, to the tune of "Aw, Sweet Mystery of
Selling to government is a mystery for most small businesses - and a
source of angst and frustration. They know that the government is a major
purchaser and that their company could provide quality goods and services.
But small (and, sometimes, medium and large) businesses are intimidated by
the procurement process - by the language employed, by the amount of
start-up learning required, by rumours and media accounts of improper
practices and illegal actions and by perceived bureaucratic barriers.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a document that explains the
"secret" process, policies and procedures that government buyers
must follow? Wouldn't it be great if it was written in simple
Well, Contracts Canada may have been reading our minds... but you can't
find the key to unlock these mysteries in the vendor information section
on their website. Their vendor information does go a long way towards
unravelling many of the mysteries of the procurement process, but what
vendors really want and need can only be found in the section for new
government buyers. Their New Buyers' Guide is just the thing - a
simple explanation of a complicated process.
The document, divided into 16 chapters, takes buyers (and those of us
reading over their shoulders) on a step-by-step, logical development
through the procurement process: what the rules of buying are; how we buy;
how it starts; buying goods; buying services; the impact of the trade
agreements; the impact of Aboriginal agreements and programs and other
issues; how to solicit bids; evaluating tenders and proposals; what the
forms of contract award are; preparing the contract; contract management
and administration; what to do if something goes wrong; terminations;
contract close out; and, best of all, this document is readily understood
by vendors. It doesn't employ a lot of jargon and it explains the process
from start to finish.
Here are some tidbits that, I believe, new vendors would find
1. Talking about sole sourcing: "You may contract with a
supplier without competition when … the estimated expenditure is less
than $25,000 for goods and services..."
2. On the subject of practices to avoid: "If you are honest and
conscientious in your buying methods, you will soon learn that there are
practices you must avoid … awarding a contract to a company that has
had previous contracts with your department or because a contractor has
had work experience in your department, for those reasons only."
3. In discussing the evaluation of proposals: "The contract is
given to the contractor who has been judged to be fully capable of
undertaking the contract, and whose proposal is judged to be the best in
accordance with the selection method chosen before the solicitation
documents are sent out and based on the evaluation criteria
The guide provides something missing from many government vendor
information sites - information about how the process is supposed to be
conducted. It provides clearly written explanations of the policies that
federal buyers are bound by and committed to, about different types of
procurements and when they are supposed to be used and the rules that
buyers have to follow.
While some might argue that this type of detailed information is not
necessary for non-buyers, I disagree. In my experience, many neophyte
vendors look at the complexities of government procurement with scepticism
-warranted or not is not the issue. Yes, most buyers work diligently at
maintaining ethical procurement practices despite, at times, enormous
political pressures and demands and, yes, incidents of policy violations
are the exception rather than the rule. Rather than entering that debate,
my feeling is that agencies, like Contracts Canada, should empower vendors
with information about the process.
Moreover, I believe that most public bodies, especially at the
provincial and municipal level, should take a bit of time to re-examine
their vendor information to see what they can do to make it easier for
suppliers to understand their procurement processes. Other agencies should
look at the New Buyers Guide as a model and develop their own - an
exercise that would provide valuable information for the agency's vendor
community and ensure that the agency has a clearly articulated, rational
and logical procurement process.
In my opinion, public procurement
should not be mysterious. Potential suppliers to all agencies would
benefit greatly if every public body had a buyers guide and promoted it as
"information for vendors on how we buy goods and services."
Empowering existing and potential vendors with information promotes vendor
confidence, competition, and co-operation, leading ultimately to lower
costs for both buyers and vendors.