Sunday, June 24, 2012

Should Elected Officials Make Consultant Selection Decisions?

Consultant and service contractor selection decisions are typically made by evaluation committees that review proposals or statements of qualifications submitted by firms.  Evaluation committees rate the submissions based on established evaluation criteria.

Question:  What role, if any, should elected officials play in making the final decision of what firm should be selected?

Louisiana's Unusual Practice:  In one of Louisiana's largest counties (called parishes), the selection decision is made by the elected members of the Jefferson Parish Council, who often overrule the evaluation and recommendation of the committee.  In fact, the Parish Council typically defers the decision "to the councilmember in whose district the contracted service will be performed," rather than making decisions based on established evaluation criteria. 

Politicized Process:  This process politicizes the consultant selection decision, raises a host of ethical concerns, and appears to result in a "pay to play" situation in which campaign contributors are awarded contracts.

Critical Report Published:  This controversial process has recently come under criticism.  In May 2012, a private, non-profit and independent research organization published a report evaluating the Parish's selection practices: "Private Services in the Public Interest: Reforming Jefferson Parish's Unusual Approach to Service Contracting."  In investigating Jefferson Parish's consultant selection practices, the Bureau of Governmental Research contacted me to provide input and comments on best practices.

Report Available Online:  The 14 page report by the Bureau of Governmental Research is available online by clicking here.

Executive Summary:  The following is the Executive Summary from the report that does a good job of highlighting the main issues addressed in the report (the headings below are mine to make it more readable):
Abnormal Process:  Jefferson Parish's contracting process for professional and other services stands far apart from norms and best practices.

Legislative Branch Power to Select:  To begin with, it places the power to select contractors with the Parish Council instead of the executive branch.  This approach is abnormal for a government with an elected executive.  It creates a misalignment between powers and responsibilities.  While the responsibility for delivering services and infrastructure rests with the executive branch, the power to select the contractors who carry out much of that work rests with the legislative branch.

Unfettered Council Discretion in Selections:  The misalignment of powers, while problematic, is not the most troubling aspect of the Parish's contracting process.  The most serious flaw is the Parish Council's nearly unfettered discretion in the selection of contractors.  The Parish Council is free to ignore the work and recommendations of the evaluation committees and make its own selections.

Selections Driven by Personal Political Relationships:  This degree of discretion would be troubling on its own, but the problem is grossly exacerbated by the practice of deferring to the councilmember in whose district the contracted service will be performed.  The result is an idiosyncratic process that some perceive to be driven more by personal political relationships than by what makes the most sense for taxpayers. 

Selection Should be Based on Evaluation Criteria:  There is no reason for giving any elected official - whether it be a council member or the chief executive - such expansive power over contractor selection.  Best practices indicate that governments should select the firm that performs best on an evaluation committee's scoring of relevant criteria.
Additional Information:   The following news articles describe the situation in more detail including the negative response to the report from the Jefferson Parish Council.
Mike Purdy's Public Contracting Blog 
© 2012 by Michael E. Purdy Associates, LLC

1 comment:

Kathy Gormanous said...

Do you think that by following the “American law" instead of the Louisiana Civil Code (Napoleonic Code) would help? It is my understanding that a lot of Louisiana still follows the Napolenoic Code and it is a nightmare for up and coming attorneys in the State.