Editorial: A call for debate

The government’s procurement system has been getting a careful review in recent months — something akin to a 10-year checkup.

The government’s procurement system has been getting a careful review in recent months — something akin to a 10-year checkup.

A variety of reporters from The Washington Post, The New York Times and even Vanity Fair magazine have offered their take on the process the government uses to buy goods and services.

One example came from a story on the front page of The New York Times, which argued that “without a public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government.”

The practice of outsourcing dates to the Clinton administration. In those days before the 2001terrorist attacks, the administration was arguing that the era of big government was over.Of course, government didn’t actually shrink, but the number of government workers did.

Like it or not, agencies depend on contractors, and they have for some time. The idea that outsourcing somehow occurred below everyone’s radar ignores the vociferous and contentious debate about the Bush administration’s competitive sourcing initiative.

There should be greater debate on what is classified as “inherently governmental.”There are some jobs that only feds should do. A public discussion about the government’s procurement system is both necessary and healthy.

The current situation leaves feds afraid to use their knowledge and experience to serve their agencies because they are terrified of the people — including agency inspectors general and watchdog groups — looking over their shoulders ready to second-guess their decisions.

We continue to be proponents of an increasingly commercial government procurement system in which vigorous competition is the best and most effective way of dealing with waste, fraud and abuse.

Will there be mistakes? Absolutely. Will there still be scandals? Of course. Unfortunately, mistakes and scandals will occur with or without a market-based system. But markets are simply more efficient than any regulatory process. They provide the best value for taxpayers.

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