Procurement
January 24, 2013

Out of the light and into the shadows

When I retired there was no one to whom I could transfer the accumulated knowledge and experience of years in the procurement business.

How common is that scenario? How many retirees spend their last months in splendid isolation, on “sick leave” or on a special project designed to get them out of the way? How many people walk out the door to become a former public servant in receipt of a pension (FPSRP), taking with them a working lifetime of knowledge and experience that has value? Without proper and planned knowledge transfer, when it goes, it is gone.

Governments can get the knowledge back through procurement. It can identify a need, compete a requirement and may the best person (maybe a FPSRP) win. Or, if the requirement is truly unique, it can go sole-source. Unfortunately, recent government announcements indicate that, from a procurement point of view, FPSRPs are increasingly pariahs.

The announcements may look good to the general public, limiting appearances of preferential treatment and double-dipping. However, operational managers deprived of needed expertise bleed in the trenches as the government cuts off its nose to spite its face.

There is another approach: ongoing proper human resources planning processes to ensure knowledge transfer, including developing staff, ensuring good replacements for people promoted out and taking over from retirees. It should be second nature, part of the responsibilities, performance accords and performance pay of every manager. Unfortunately, it is not.

If knowledge transfer isn’t effective, and if a manager can’t benefit from FPSRPs using procurement, then hire them! Someone can retire on Friday and be back in the office on Monday as a short-term public servant. It’s perfectly legal, can be highly effective, and is increasingly necessary to keep the business of government going. As with procurement, there are rules, and as with contracting, when the rules are followed there are clear benefits to the public service.

Either way, when the selection process is clean it is a good thing to make use of those FPSRPs. They have done a lot, they know a lot, their expertise may well be unique, and they offer significant value for money. Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is to be lauded for its implementation last summer of a formal program to bring its retired employees back into short-term jobs when their skills are needed.

When this hiring happens, though, the reasonably open and transparent procurement process is replaced by the less-open world of staffing. Remember, high value procurements are publicly advertised: every federal government contract with a FPSRP of more than $25,000 (sole-source) or $100,000 (competitive) requires Treasury Board approval. Under the new rules, every contract over $10,000 awarded to a FPSRP will be clearly announced on departmental websites. Checks and balances: public and visible.

Denied contracts, those same FPSRPs can come back into the government as employees the day after they retire with no public disclosure of opportunity, no competition, no Board approval requirement, and no post-publication of the appointment. As procurement becomes impossible, watch the use of this approach grow, if you can see it. It is perverse: the government claims to be acting for transparency, but its action in the relative light of procurement moves into the shadows of staffing.

The thing is, the public service needs the knowledge and expertise of FPSRPs to function well. When contracting with FPSRPs has become so difficult, any option that works is eagerly embraced.

Should we anticipate new government measures to reduce the use of short-term jobs to get back the skills of FPSRPs? Has the government noticed the use of this approach? I think not. Behind the scenes, the government does recognize the value-added imperative of tapping the skills of FPSRPs.

Making contracting with those FPSRPs more difficult is not helpful, and neither would be inhibiting the use of short-term employment. In both cases, the quality of government programs and administration will suffer. Better knowledge transfer from retirees would be of help but it is not a complete solution.

If the issue with FPSRPs is visibility, shine the light; if it is perceptions, have the courage to present the case; if it is ensuring knowledge transfer, do it, always remembering that what the government needs is proper and effective mechanisms for operational managers to bring FPSRPs back into service using the most appropriate approach – contracts, short-term jobs, voluntary mentoring, whatever.

Help, don’t hinder. Create, don’t destroy. And stop treating FPSPs, in procurement matters, like second-class citizens.

John Read provides procurement consulting services to public sector clients. He served for almost 15 years in the Public Works procurement arena and is in receipt of a pension.

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