Monday, February 8, 2010

Making the State Government Purchasing Process More Transparent

In last week's legislative update, I talked about how social media can be used as a feedback mechanism by businesses. I posited that state government should be allowed to take advantage of these same techniques, and I have heard from state officials how they need a clear set of policies to govern their actions in using social media projects.

In that article I wrote about how social media has the potential to keep government honest because everyone is able to see the public postings by citizens and government officials. This removes the "he said/she said" scenario and allows everyone to view the posts and make their own judgment calls.

I am of the firm belief that these types of technologies can also provide transparency to state government processes which are currently clouded by any number of antiquated regulations.

Here is an example. One of the legally complicated areas of state government activity is that of purchasing. As I work on legislation involving state purchasing practices, I frequently encounter stories from vendors who feel they are not treated fairly in the bidding process.

In the past, state government purchasing officers have been hesitant to engage in private communication with prospective vendors. Purchasing officers do not want to be accused of providing preferential treatment, nor do they wish to be accused of allowing an "inside track," or creating a successful bid over another competitor. This communication barrier may be responsible for costing the taxpayers, because the best vendors may not want compete for state business if they are not clear on what will be required of them or if they simply don't want to incur liabilities which could keep them from making a profit.

The key to solving this problem is to facilitate the use of a public forum where potential vendors can ask questions about outstanding bids and receive answers from state officials. The entire dialog would be viewable to everyone, eliminating any unfair advantage. Social networks and collaborative online resources such as Wikis allow for public communication to take place at little to no cost.

I believe that all requests for proposals (RFPs) for contracts could be posted through a series of collaborative documents, with all specifications being available to everyone having a bidding interest. This information could be linked to the collaborative forum or social network environment where the potential vendor could ask questions which everyone could review.

This year it is my intent to clearly define the ability of state government to use these tools. That effort will be codified if House Bill 2318 is approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

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