Publish What You Buy: The Case for Routine Publication of Government Contracts

August 24, 2012

This paper argues for a citizen’s contract initiative that would exhort governments to “publish what you buy.” Greater transparency in contracting would improve and lower the costs of contracting outcomes to the benefit of governments, contractors, and citizens alike. This paper discusses some of those benefits.

But regardless of efficiency concerns, citizens should be able to see government contracts because the contracts are theirs. Citizens are entitled to know how government money is spent. New technology has made what was burdensome and expensive both cheap and straightforward. The remaining arguments commonly presented against—regarding administrative burdens and confidentiality concerns—are weak.

A growing number of countries including the United States reactively publish contracts, but that is only a first step. The Federal Government in Colombia, the UK government, the Australian state governments of New South Wales and Victoria, and the US county government of Miami-Dade are leaders in this area—all proactively publish the text of contracts online. With the spread of e-procurement systems and the simplicity of online publishing, posting contract documents is increasingly straightforward. It is a good time for a global movement towards greater contracting transparency.

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