Ensuring Transparent Procurement

The process of public agencies awarding contracts has always been a flashpoint for controversy and a magnet for corruption, dating back to the days of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine in New York City politics, which has made it all the more important for public agencies and governmental officials to ensure a transparent and ethical process. 

In most cities, the procurement of goods or services follows similar steps – the process starts with the city agency in need of the services writing a bid solicitation or Request for Proposal (RFP), which is then released publicly.  Bid solicitations have traditionally been published in an official city newspaper, though many cities have also begun to list open RFPs online.  Once the bid solicitation has been released, it is up to vendors to submit proposals within the time-frame specified.  The city will then rank the proposals on set criteria – such as price, quality, experience or timing – and select a bid winner. 

The publication of open contracts is an important step in ensuring transparency and open competition among potential vendors. The New York Times recently highlighted The City Record, which has publicized open contracts in New York City for nearly 150 years, since the first issue was published in June 1873. Every day The City Record publishes the official listings for all city agencies, which in addition to open contracts includes public hearings, property auctions and personnel changes within departments.  The City Record began posting its listings online in 2004, and is in the process of digitizing older records – the digitized database now runs from 1873 to 1947.

Researchers interested in the public contracting process should familiarize themselves with the exact process in the locale in which they are working and also probe for the existence of resources like The City Record.