FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Find Out What You’re Buying

by

The issue of government procurement is one that may not rouse the public into mass outrage such as much other pressing political and social problems — but continue reading and perhaps it will rouse you intellectually.

It is no secret that the U.S. government is a very big spender. Much like its citizens, the government regularly buys products such as vehicles, appliances, furniture, fuel, clothing, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals and much more. Government procurement is used to purchase telephone and Internet services, other utilities, health insurance services and more. Government-sponsored research and development has led to advancements in aviation, medicine, electronics, and even the development of the Internet. The U.S. federal government is one of the world’s biggest consumers. These hundreds of billions of dollars in purchases and investments are a driving force of the American economy — procurement creates jobs, promotes innovation and even has socially beneficial effects. It also is often associated with outsourcing waste and fraud and crony capitalism.

It took a federal procurement of automobiles with driver-side airbags in 1985 for the use of government employees to press the big auto manufacturers to finally acknowledge the life-saving protection of airbags. And we owe the civilian market for cheaper, generic drugs to purchases first pioneered by the U.S. Army.

The other side of government spending, however, is the waste, fraud and abuse that occur without proper comprehensive oversight. A perfect example is the troubled F-35 joint strike fighter program which has lifetime cost estimates of over $1 trillion and is rife with technical problems. (The test F-35 fleet is currently grounded after one caught on fire on the runway last month.)

One example of comprehensive oversight that we have long fought for is free access to the full text of government contracts online. It only makes sense — shouldn’t taxpayers have the right to see how their dollars are being spent? Comprehensive oversight is only possible when information is available to the public eye. Such access would inevitably encourage fiscal responsibility and hinder corruption. The Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, which was signed into law earlier this year by President Obama, will address some of the challenges in documenting government spending, although it does not mandate the full text of contracts online. Considering the hundreds of billions of dollars in annual federal government contracts, grants, leaseholds and licenses that are awarded to corporations each year, much work is left to be done in adequately informing the public of how their dollars are spent.

One promising development recently came from the U.S. Navy.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the Navy, in a small news conference, publicly announced a ranking of the best contractors that they do business with. The top 30 contractors, broken into individual work units within their larger corporations, were separated into three tiers based on their performance. (Notably, only the top nine were shared with reporters at the briefing. See the full list here.)

To my knowledge, this is the first time that any federal agency has done such a public ranking. But it should not be the last, given the massive amount of taxpayer dollars for government purchases and outsourcing every year.

Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics said at the media briefing that the Navy’s method of ranking and categorizing its contractors would be expanding to the Army and Air Force, as well.

This pioneering method could serve as a modest template for other government departments and agencies. A publicly visible ranking system with publicly explicit standards promotes competition and keeps corporations accountable for the services they are paid to provide. And making the public keenly aware of the quality of the contractors the government chooses to hire is a critical first step in taxpayers seeing a better return for their spent dollars. It’s an issue that both the left and right can and should align on — who besides the corporatists, with their hand in the cookie jar, would oppose spending taxpayer dollars wisely?

Just this week I wrote a letter to the heads of many of the government’s top contracting departments and agencies inquiring into whether their agency would follow the Navy’s lead and consider doing their own ranking of contractors and the criteria used. Perhaps an inter-agency conference between departments would significantly increase accountability and efficiency in government spending. Where is the roar of the people?

Ralph Nader’s latest book is: Unstoppable: the Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Farhang Jahanpour
America’s Woes, Europe’s Responsibilities
Joseph Natoli
March Madness Outside the Basketball Court
Bill Willers
Volunteerism; Charisma; the Ivy League Stranglehold: a Very Brief Trilogy
Bruce Mastron
Slaughtered Arabs Don’t Count
Pauline Murphy
Unburied Truth: Exposing the Church’s Iron Chains on Ireland
Ayesha Khan
The Headscarf is Not an Islamic Compulsion
Ron Jacobs
Music is Love, Music is Politics
Christopher Brauchli
Prisoners as Captive Customers
Robert Koehler
The Mosque That Disappeared
Franklin Lamb
Update from Madaya
Dan Bacher
Federal Scientists Find Delta Tunnels Plan Will Devastate Salmon
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Gig Economy: Which Side Are You On?
Louis Proyect
What Caused the Holodomor?
Max Mastellone
Seeking Left Unity Through a Definition of Progressivism
Charles R. Larson
Review: David Bellos’s “Novel of the Century: the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables”
David Yearsley
Ear of Darkness: the Soundtracks of Steve Bannon’s Films
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail