It's Friday at 5 pm. How Many Contracts Were Sole Sourced By Your Government This Week?

Do you know what a "Sole Source Contract" is? Do you know the percentage of the number of sole source contracts compared to the total number of contracts awarded by your city, county or state each year? Do you know the dollar value of the sole source contracts as compared to the total dollar value of all contracts awarded by your city, county and state? Well, you should because it is your money as a taxpayer that is funding these contracts. One of the dirty little secrets of governmental agencies and departments is their ability to side-step the procurement, sunshine and ethics laws and rules normally in place in larger cities and counties throughout the U.S. by using sole source contracts. For example, a city needs a contractor/vendor to provide consulting services for architectural work and seeks to award a public contract for that work. Under the City's competitive bidding procurement rules, normally this kind of a job would be sent out for bid meaning the potential work/contract would be publicly advertised and interested contractors would submit a bid document providing their qualifications and pricing.

However, let's say City officials really like ABC Architecture  and knows the particular attributes of this job really well. ABC Architecture has also done other small jobs for the City for 20 years.  Well, City officials could elect to sole source the job to ABC Architecture by claiming that they are the only qualified vendor. What this means is that ABC Architecture will literally name its own price, go to contract and get approved without its qualifications, pricing, or competitors ever being discussed, analyzed or even questioned. What is wrong with that?

Well, everything. The City's funds used to pay ABC Architecture come from taxes collected from people like you and me. In this economy, public funds are low, taxes are high and overburdened taxpayers are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis. Local, state and national governments should be looking at every possible avenue to save money by cutting costs and getting the lowest possible price.

The goals of a competitive bidding process are at least twofold. One, find the most qualified vendor to the do the work. Two, get the best price to do the work. The use of sole source contracts wholly defeats those goals and results in taxpayers' monies being used to pay more for goods and services that may not be the best quality.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Absolutely. But the exceptions are not as extensive as public officials claim. If you are a public hospital and need a particular piece of equipment and there is only one company that holds the patent on that equipment-then of course the hospital should sole source the work and purchase the patented equipment.

But the exception has become the rule. Many large cities and counties across the U.S. are turning a blind eye to violations of their own procurement rules by allowing sole source contract awards to "fly under the radar." It is up to local government watchdogs to monitor this activity and, if discovered, make a public complaint.

We believe that government agencies at all levels should be required to fully disclose at least annually all sole source contracts including a description of the work, contract length and amount, and identification of sole source contractor. Such disclosures would give potential competitors an opportunity to step forward and seek the work as well as give taxpayers the ability to hold accountable government officials who are illegally sole sourcing contracts. There is an old saying "A dollar saved is a dollar earned." Government officials at all levels need to take that to heart and use sole source contracts only in exceptional circumstances!