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.

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 22, 2017
Jason Hirthler
Invisible Empire Beneath the Radar, Above Suspicion
Ken Levy
Sorry, But It’s Entirely the Right’s Fault
John Laforge
Fukushima’s Radiation Will Poison Food “for Decades,” Study Finds
Ann Garrison
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party, and the UK’s Socialist Surge
Phillip Doe
Big Oil in the Rocky Mountain State: the Overwhelming Tawdriness of Government in Colorado
Howard Lisnoff
The Spiritual Death of Ongoing War
Stephen Cooper
Civilized, Constitution-Loving Californians Will Continue Capital Punishment Fight
Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla
Cuba Will Not Bow to Trump’s Threats
Ramzy Baroud
Israel vs. the United Nations: The Nikki Haley Doctrine
Tyler Wilch
The Political Theology of US Drone Warfare
Colin Todhunter
A Grain of Truth: RCEP and the Corporate Hijack of Indian Agriculture
Robert Koehler
When the Detainee is American…
Jeff Berg
Our No Trump Contract
Faiza Shaheen
London Fire Fuels Movement to Challenge Inequality in UK
Rob Seimetz
Sorry I Am Not Sorry: A Letter From Millennials to Baby Boomers
June 21, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
Resist This: the United States is at War With Syria
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9-11
Diana Johnstone
The Single Party French State … as the Majority of Voters Abstain
Ted Rall
Democrats Want to Lose the 2020 Election
Kathy Kelly
“Would You Like a Drink of Water?” Please Ask a Yemeni Child
Russell Mokhiber
Sen. Joe Manchin Says “No” to Single-Payer, While Lindsay Graham Floats Single-Payer for Sick People
Ralph Nader
Closing Democracy’s Doors Until the People Open Them
Binoy Kampmark
Barclays in Hot Water: The Qatar Connection
Jesse Jackson
Trump Ratchets Up the Use of Guns, Bombs, Troops, and Insults
N.D. Jayaprakash
No More Con Games: Abolish Nuclear Weapons Now! (Part Four)
David Busch
The Kingdom of Pence–and His League of Flaming Demons–is Upon Us
Stephen Cooper
How John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle” Helps Us Navigate Social Discord
Madis Senner
The Roots of America’s Identity and Our Political Divide are Buried Deep in the Land
June 20, 2017
Ajamu Baraka
The Body Count Rises in the U.S. War Against Black People
Gary Leupp
Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet
Maxim Nikolenko
Beating Oliver Stone: the Media’s Spin on the Putin Interviews
Michael J. Sainato
Philando Castile and the Self Righteous Cloak of White Privilege
John W. Whitehead
The Militarized Police State Opens Fire
Peter Crowley
The Groundhog Days of Terrorism
Norman Solomon
Behind the Media Surge Against Bernie Sanders
Pauline Murphy
Friedrich Engels: a Tourist In Ireland
David Swanson
The Unifying Force of War Abolition
Louisa Willcox
Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Tom Udall Back Tribes in Grizzly Fight
John Stanton
Mass Incarceration, Prison Labor in the United States
Robert Fisk
Did Trump Denounce Qatar Over Failed Business Deals?
Medea Benjamin
America Will Regret Helping Saudi Arabia Bomb Yemen
Brian Addison
Los Angeles County Data Shows Startling Surge in Youth, Latino Homelessness
Native News Online
Betraying Indian Country: How Grizzly Delisting Exposes Trump and Zinke’s Assault on Tribal Sovereignty and Treaty Rights
Stephen Martin
A Tragic Inferno in London Reflects the Terrorism of the Global Free Market
Debadityo Sinha
Think Like a River
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail