By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Brazil (including procurement)

Brazil -- which I have been visiting for the first time -- and its capital Brasilia, built in 1960, is a fascinating place to be now.  The economy, fueled by export demand for efficient Brazilian agribusiness products such as soybeans and for minerals, is booming. Brazil's President Lula, son of a poor farmer and one of the first in Brazil's history not to come from the country's elite, is governing from the center and performing an historic task of moving Brazil's political left from far out into a left-of-center international mainstream. 


Debates about public management and even about procurement here, as reflected in the public management conference at which I spoke and in conversations with government officials, are more similar to the United States than I would have expected. Brazil strongly comes from an Iberian/continental European legal tradition where anything that law or regulation does not allow is considered to be forbidden, so my citation of the language in Part 1 of our Federal Acquisition Regulation stating the opposite was greeted with interest.


I was surpirsed to see at this big (thousand participants) public management conference, in signs in Portugese (which I can often figure out, at least in written form, through knowing French), the slogan:  "Managing for Results -- A New Way to Govern."  The first evening's keynote speaker, a Spanish professor, spoke about a "post-bureaucratic paradigm" which emphasizes achieving results on behalf of citizen, not just the bureaucratic virtues of regularity and impartiality.  My hosts, working on procurement policy for the country, aren't trying to get away from a system of convoluted rules for the procurement system.  "Right now, often the only way a manager can get something done is by risking breaking the law," I was told, and the person who said this didn't think this was a desirable situation. 


Brazil has more of a corruption problem in procurement than we do in the United States, though far less than in some other countries. I argued we should use other ways to fight corruption than by creating a kludgey procurement system.


There is a government credit card, and recently the media has been filled with stories about card abuse (sound familiar).  When, as part of the speech I gave, I defended the value of government credit cards as a way to make huge administrative cost savings and radically to speed procurement of everyday commercial items, the conference participants, normally an impassive bunch, actually applauded.

Posted on May 29, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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