State and local governments across the country spend an estimated $2 trillion in goods and services every year. This means that $2 trillion flows from governments to private entities for everything from city services, such as trash pickup and park maintenance, to public health programs, to the purchase of textbooks for students, to the complex technological systems that undergird many public services.
Given the immense amount of public money transferred to the private sector through government contracting, it is crucial that local and state governments use an approach to procurement that drives toward equity. State and local governments that use a traditional procurement approach–typically by prioritizing cost savings over all other considerations– are potentially undermining their own goals and missing out on the opportunity to advance meaningful progressive change. Without an approach to procurement that reflects public values, government contracting can result in unchecked private control over public goods and services. We already see this play out in many jurisdictions, where private corporations drive how and to whom public goods and services are delivered, often exacerbating racial inequities and paving the way for the creation of privatization schemes.
While there are important questions about whether various public goods and services should be operated or provided by private entities, a traditional procurement approach can result in the privatization of services that would be provided better and more equitably through the public sector. Privatization, a key pillar of political attacks on government in the last few decades, has weakened many public goods and services and excluded an increasing number of Americans from full participation in the political and economic systems that shape their lives. Local and state governments should ensure that procurement is truly being used to solve public problems and that resulting contracts are responsive to public needs, especially for those who rely on or are most impacted by the service or good.
From the introduction to “Harnessing the Power of Procurement:Issues, Considerations, and Best Practices to Advance Equity in the Contracting of Public Goods and Services,” a joint collaboration between In the Public Interest and the Local Progress Impact Lab
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