Impressed by the response to Justin Sandefur’s recent CGD blog entry, I’ve titled this post in an attempt to sex up the topic of government procurement. No need, you say? What’s hotter than one hundred pages of legalese and a bill of quantities detailing asphalt and gravel? The below is for you, and it ends with a request for your help.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been pushing the idea of a global effort towards routine government contract publication –aka Publish What You Buy. There’s a new CGD policy paper on the whys and hows of publication which I co-authored with Jonathan Karver. There’s an article in the Guardian suggesting this would be a great cause for the new DFID Secretary of State, and a piece in Businessweek arguing that it’s as good an idea for rich countries like the US as for developing countries. And there’s a podcast with Lawrence MacDonald that tries to summarize it all. (If that isn’t enough, see also an earlier article on the same topic for Foreign Policy and a working paper about contract transparency in construction).
It is a good time to be pushing the idea, not least because lots of other people have already been pushing in broadly the same direction –including the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative and a new global effort being supported by the World Bank Institute on Open Contracting (take part in a survey to help shape that initiative here). But there are still considerable unknowns. Amongst them, two questions I hope to be doing more work on over the next few months: what impact might contract publication have on development outcomes and, second, what information in government contracts would it be a mistake to release –in particular around commercial secrets.
This is where the bleg comes in. I would love to hear from anyone involved with the two national contract publication systems already operating –in Colombia and the UK—about the experience with setting them up and, in particular questions about confidentiality. It would be great to hear from firms, NGOs and other contractors about their concerns. And I’d be hugely grateful to hear about any literature that has tackled the issue of the impact of greater procurement transparency (around prices, or of deliverables). Many, many thanks in advance.